Higher ed­u­ca­tion re­form is our pri­or­ity

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters -

I wel­come the de­bate on what uni­ver­si­ties and higher ed­u­ca­tion should be for, but Zoe Wil­liams clearly needs to look at the ed­u­ca­tion com­mit­tee’s find­ings more closely rather than just high­light­ing one line out of one of my speeches (For Tories, the poor don’t need ed­u­ca­tion, Jour­nal, 6 Novem­ber).

Our re­port this week is fo­cused on skills, so­cial jus­tice and good grad­u­ate out­comes. The fact is we have a huge skills deficit in our coun­try, with the man­u­fac­tur­ers or­gan­i­sa­tion, the EEF, warn­ing that al­most three-quar­ters of busi­nesses are con­cerned about find­ing work­ers with the skills they need. Yet just eight out of 24 Rus­sell Group uni­ver­si­ties are of­fer­ing de­gree ap­pren­tice­ships.

On so­cial jus­tice, we are de­ter­mined to re­verse the de­cline of peo­ple from dis­ad­van­taged ar­eas go­ing to univer­sity, with the num­ber fall­ing by 15% each year since 2011. Mean­while, the num­ber of part­time stu­dents has also dropped by 51% be­tween 2010 and 2015. There should be more flex­i­ble learn­ing to en­cour­age part-timers and an end to the rigid struc­ture of three-year de­grees, so stu­dents can hop on and off cour­ses and build cred­its. We also call for the rein­tro­duc­tion of main­te­nance grants.

Fi­nally, it is en­tirely wrong that the salaries of vice-chan­cel­lors have in some cases be­come ob­scene and out of kil­ter with re­al­ity. There should be very strict cri­te­ria on ac­cept­able lev­els of pay, en­forced by the new Of­fice for Stu­dents.

The prob­lem is that about half of all grad­u­ates are not get­ting grad­u­ate jobs. The cross-party com­mit­tee firmly be­lieves that if stu­dents are go­ing to take on the big bur­den of a loan, as well as hav­ing a good ed­u­ca­tion, there must surely be a good grad­u­ate job at the end of it. Robert Hal­fon MP

Chair, House of Com­mons ed­u­ca­tion se­lect com­mit­tee

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