Labour’s plan for British University fees will gain votes but won’t cure the underlying problem facing the UK workforce
In a letter to the Times from Universities UK, vice-chancellors from leading universities have warned that this cut the fees cap will lead to a £10bn hole in revenues during the next parliament. They also argue that cuts to universities fees would damage the economy, affect the quality of students' education, and set back work on widening access to higher education. The labour leader, Ed Milliband has asked the shadow chancellor Ed Balls to lead an investigation into how this deficit would be funded – a task so far left unanswered.
One of the main challenges for any political party is to attract voters from the younger section of society who may already be disenchanted with politics. Considering the fact that nearly half of UK students now attend universities, this recent pledge should resonate positively with the young electorate, and the timing could not be better with a little over three months until polling begins. With many students leaving universities with an average of £43,000 debt, any decrease in costs will be greatly received by them, however, the labour policy makers would be better served jumping onto a wider and more prominent issue of the current education system which clearly is not working. Prior to the announcement of this policy, Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, expressed her dismay that every third child leaving primary school is unable to read and write to an acceptable standard. This clearly feeds into the secondary education and then the working environment – a known and documented problem for UK business leaders.
The Labour party may win much needed votes with this new policy, however, a complete revamp of the current education system is needed so that children leave primary school possessing the ability to read, write and be numerate to a respectable standard. There is little need to continue to increase the number of young people entering universities. What is needed is a return to the apprentice schemes and training programmes for young people so that they are better equipped to enter the workforce with strong knowledge of their trade and also other practical skills, should they need to transfer to another role in a different industry, but this process starts in the schools system. University degrees in many subjects nowadays are not leaving young people with skills required or desired in today’s working environment and successive governments should remember that the UK has changed to a service industry and not an industry with a strong need for graduates possessing degrees in English or Media Studies, for example. If governments wish to cut university fees, they should look at subjects such as engineering, where there is an urgent need for these graduates and use the reduction in fees for this subject as an attraction tool.
It is very well using such electioneering bargaining tools to gain votes, however, it is clearly important to see the bigger picture which is a much documented failing schools system in need of attention. Whoever is granted the keys to no.10 needs to elevate the schools issue to its utmost priority before many other issues so that the rest of the world could look at the UK system as one to be envious of, not one to be wary of.
Dr. Victor Chukwuemeka
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