Post-18 Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:37 pm on 20th February 2018.

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Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Secretary of State for Education 5:37 pm, 20th February 2018

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the review of post-18 education and funding. While I am not announcing new policy today, I welcome the opportunity to confirm to the House details of a major review across post-18 education and funding, as announced by the Prime Minister yesterday.

Before I discuss the specifics of the review, I should highlight some of the strengths and successes of our existing post-18 system. We have a world-class higher education system. Sixteen British universities are in the world’s top 100 and four are in the top 10. We have record numbers of young people entering university, including from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our student finance system removes up-front financial barriers and provides protections for borrowers so that they only have to contribute when they can afford to do so. A university degree provides significant financial returns to the individual: graduates on average benefit from their university education by over £100,000 over their lifetime.

The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 sets the foundation for further improvements, with the Office for Students to be a strong voice for students and to ensure minimum standards. The director for fair access and participation will help to drive social mobility. The teaching outcomes and excellence framework measures are in the legislation as well, as is the facilitation of further diversity with new providers and shorter degrees delivered at a lower cost to students.

The Technical and Further Education Act 2017 extends the responsibilities of the Institute for Apprenticeships to include technical education, as well as introducing degree-level apprenticeships. New institutes of technology will be established, which will focus on higher-level technical skills and will be eligible for access to loans and grants for their students. T-levels are in development—a true, equal-standing alternative to A- levels.

We will build on those important reforms in this review. We will also look at parts of the system that are not working as well as they could be. Although we have seen further growth in three-year degrees for 18-year-olds, the post-18 system does not always offer a comprehensive range of high-quality alternative routes for the many young people who pursue a technical or vocational path at that stage. In universities, we have not seen the extent of increase in choice that we would have wanted. The great majority of courses are priced at the same level and three-year courses remain the norm. Meanwhile, although the funding system is a progressive one with built-in protections, those elements are not always well understood.

It is for those reasons that the Government are committed to conducting this major review to look further at how we can ensure that our post-18 education system is joined up and supported by a funding system that works for students and taxpayers. The review will look at four key strands: choice and competition across post-18 education and training; value for money for graduates and taxpayers; accessibility of the system to all; and delivering the skills that our country needs now and in the future. This means identifying ways to help people to make the most effective choices between the options available at and after 18, so that they can make more informed decisions about their futures. It is also about ensuring that there is a more diverse range of options to choose from beyond the classic three-year or four-year undergraduate degrees.

We will look at how students and graduates contribute to the cost of their studies, to ensure that funding arrangements across post-18 education are transparent and do not prevent people from accessing higher education or training. We will examine how we can best ensure that people from all backgrounds have equal opportunities to progress and succeed in post-18 education, including considering how disadvantaged students receive maintenance support, both from the Government and from universities and colleges. We will look at how we can best support education outcomes that deliver our industrial strategy ambitions by contributing to a strong economy and delivering the skills our country needs.

We are clear that we must maintain and protect key elements of our current post-18 education system that work well already. We will maintain the principle that students should contribute to the cost of their studies, and we will not place a cap on the number of students who can benefit from post-18 education. We will not regress to a system like that in Scotland, where controls on student numbers continue to restrict the aspirations of young people.

The review will be informed by independent advice from an expert panel from across post-18 education, business and academia chaired by Philip Augar, a financial author and former non-executive director of the Department for Education. To inform its advice, the panel will carry out extensive consultation and engagement with the sector, with business and with, among others, people currently or recently participating in post-18 education. The panel will publish its report at an interim stage, before the Government conclude the overall review in early 2019.

The UK is truly a world-leading destination for study and research. Record numbers of young people, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are entering university. However, we recognise the concerns and we must look at how we can go further to provide choice, to open up access and to deliver value for money for students and taxpayers. We must ensure that the system as a whole is delivering the best possible outcomes for young people and the economy, joining up the vocational, technical and academic routes and supported by a fair and sustainable funding system. I commend this statement to the House.