Post-18 Review of Education and Funding - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:32 pm on 4th June 2019.

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Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 6:32 pm, 4th June 2019

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier today in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the Government’s review of post-18 education and its funding—the first review since the Robbins report in 1963 to look at the totality of post-18 education. The Government will carefully consider the independent panel’s recommendations before finalising our approach at the spending review.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the independent panel, led by Philip Augar, for its exceptional work. Alongside Dr Augar on the panel were Professor Sir Ivor Crewe, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Professor Edward Peck, Beverley Robinson OBE and Professor the Baroness Alison Wolf. The panel consulted with a wide spectrum of experts, leaders and senior figures and received almost 400 responses to its call for evidence. I would like to also thank all those stakeholders, including colleagues from across this House, who contributed to the review. We will continue to engage with stakeholders now that the independent panel phase is complete and as we work towards the completion of the review.

A lot of the attention will be on what this report says about higher education, but the majority of students in post-18 education are not at university. The report identifies the importance of both further and higher education in creating a system which unlocks everyone’s talents. As the Prime Minister said last week, further education and technical colleges are not just places of learning; they are vital engines of both social mobility and of economic prosperity. Colleges play an essential part in delivering the modern industrial strategy and equipping young people with knowledge and skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow. And of course, we are very conscious of the need for reskilling and upskilling at a time when we are all more likely to have multiple careers during our working lives.

We are already carrying out a major upgrade to technical and vocational education, including the introduction of new T-levels for young people and developing proposals to introduce employer-focused, higher technical qualifications at so-called levels 4 and 5. These will provide high-quality technical qualifications to rival traditional academic options, and we have overhauled apprenticeships to provide people with the skills and career paths they need for great jobs and great careers. But appropriate attention to our college sector—the backbone of technical education in this country—is required to ensure technical education is an equally valid path for a young person as a degree route. I believe that the principles set out in this report will help lay the foundation for a sector that is stronger and more robust and will help cement its reputation as being among the best in the world.

Our higher education system transforms lives and is a great contributor, both to our industrial success and to the cultural life of the nation. It can open up a whole world of opportunities and broaden horizons. Whatever decisions we make about how best to take forward recommendations in this report, it is vital that we support these institutions to continue to offer world-leading higher education to students in future.

The opportunity to study at university should be open to anyone with the talent and potential to benefit from that experience. Gaining a university degree has benefits both for individuals and for society—or, in the jargon, it has both a private return and a social return. On average, doing a degree has strong earning returns, equating to over £100,000 extra lifetime earnings per graduate after tax. So we believe it is right that contributions to the cost of higher education need to be shared between the student and the taxpayer.

The scale of the government subsidy today is in fact much larger than most people imagine—close to half the total—and it is a progressive system, where those on the highest income contribute the most and those on incomes lower than £25,725 make no contribution. As Government we believe it is essential that we provide the right support to enable people from all backgrounds to access and, most importantly, succeed at university and on other higher-level courses.

In 2018, we had record rates of 18 year-olds accepted to full-time university, up 0.4 percentage points to 33.7%. Students from the lowest-income households have access to the largest ever amounts of cash support for their living costs. Already this year, we have increased living costs support for the 2019-20 academic year to a record amount.

However, although 18 year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds are now 52% more likely to go to university than 10 years ago, there is more progress that we need to make. Disadvantaged students are still less likely than their more advantaged peers to attend the most selective universities, have the support they need to successfully complete their degree, and are less likely to achieve a 2.1 or a First. The panel’s proposals on support for disadvantaged groups are an important contribution to the debate in this area.

I very much welcome the focus that the panel has placed on making sure that all higher education is of high quality and also delivers well for students and the taxpayer. There are very high-quality courses across the full range of subjects—from creative arts to medicine—but there are also courses where students are less well served. I have also spoken in recent months of bad practices not in the student interest, such as artificial grade inflation and so-called conditional unconditional offers.

The panel’s recommendations on student finance are detailed and interrelated and cannot be considered each in isolation. We will need to look carefully at each recommendation in turn and in the round to reach a view on what will best support students and the institutions they study at, and ensure value for taxpayers. In considering these recommendations, we will also have regard to students currently in the system, or about to enter it, to ensure any changes are fair to current and new cohorts of students.

I am sure the House will recognise that this comprehensive report, with detailed analysis and no fewer than 53 recommendations, gives the Government a lot to consider. We will continue to engage with stakeholders on the findings and recommendations in the panel report, and conclude the review at the spending review. But I am clear that whatever route a student chooses, and whatever their background, post-18 education should set them on a successful path for their future. With this vision, I strongly believe that the HE and FE sectors can and should continue to thrive together. I commend this Statement to the House”.