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Robert Halfon: Skills, social justice, standards, and support for teachers. A four-part manifesto for the new Prime Minister.

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Whether it is Boris Johnson’s £4.6 billion earmarked for schools, or his pledge to boost funding for apprenticeships, education has received vital oxygen during this leadership contest.

The Education Select Committee’s upcoming report on school funding, which we will publish later this week, supports the logic of these pledges – in particular, the need to support further education, which has for too long been considered the Cinderella sector.

But we must look beyond this. Education policy is an enormous montage of different worlds. In the months and years ahead, the new Prime Minister should collect these into one ambitious strategy. He can do this by focusing on the following four “S”s: skills, social justice, standards, and support for the profession.

First, skills.

Around nine million working aged adults in England have low literacy and/or numeracy skills. Many end up in low-skill, low-paid jobs – their life prospects dragged into the quicksand. And a third of England’s 16-19-year-olds have low basic skills.

We must urgently address this by building on the fine work of Damian Hinds and Anne Milton.

In particular, the new Conservative Government should build a world-class apprenticeship offer. It is vital to better understand what is driving the dramatic decline in Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships, and increasing FE funding is a necessity. We would be in a remarkable position if we were able to offer an apprenticeship to every single young person in our country who wanted one.

In terms of lifelong learning, we should build an adult community learning centre in every town, restructure existing employer tax reliefs so that they receive more generous relief when investing in low-skilled employees, and introduce a social justice tax credit, which would expand the number of employers who benefit from tax breaks when they invest in training for low-skilled workers in areas of skills needs.

The curriculum also needs reappraising to make sure our country is ready for the march of the robots. 28 per cent of jobs taken by 16-24-year-olds could be at risk of automation by the 2030s; many low-skilled jobs are at risk and even higher skilled jobs are not immune. Policy makers must consider what it means to develop the skills of the future, and how best to do this. There should be a Royal Commission, with the finest scientists, economists and academics in the land, looking at the effect that AI, automation, and robots will have on society, the economy and our education system, as well as how we should respond to these challenges.

Degree apprenticeships, the crown jewel in higher education, should be at the heart of our higher education offering. The Government must aim to have at least 50 per cent of students doing degree apprenticeships. They allow students to get good quality jobs and earn whilst they learn without a lead weight of £50,000 dragging from their feet.

It is time to reflect on what we consider to be an ‘elite university’. Do they just have good research rankings or are they institutions that deliver high graduate employment outcomes, meet our skills needs and address social disadvantage? We must better recognise the unsung heroes of higher education, like Portsmouth University which came top of The Economist’s “value-added” university rankings (this compares graduates’ wages with what they would have been expected to earn if they had not gone to that university), or Nottingham Trent which has exceptionally high numbers of disadvantaged students and incredibly high destination outcomes.

Second, social justice.

Currently, social injustice inhabits every part of our education system. Almost half of children eligible for free school meals are not ready for primary school. Disadvantaged children are 19 months behind by the time they do their GCSEs. Just 33 per cent of pupils on free school meals get five good GCSEs. And the most disadvantaged students are almost four times less likely to go to university than the most advantaged students.

Good schools are not just bastions of learning but also places of community. And yet schools in many deprived areas struggle to attract experienced teachers and leaders, who are so instrumental in driving up quality. Teachers in disadvantaged areas are also less likely to teach subjects in which they are qualified, and access to good initial teacher training varies by geography.

So how to dismantle these obstacles to learning? Social justice must be the beating heart of our education policy. A bold, assertive agenda that has compassion and aspiration right at its core.

The DfE should incentivise elite initial teacher training providers to set up shop in disadvantaged areas and support the subsequent development of local teachers. This might involve new funding, but they could also consider making use of existing funds – for example, we spend £72 million on opportunity areas, although we don’t really know exactly what impact they are having.

Disadvantaged pupils should also enjoy the benefits associated with our best private schools, including extensive social capital. I attended a private school and am a huge fan of their transformative potential. But, given the extensive charitable benefits that private schools get, they must do more to open their gates to acutely disadvantaged pupils. This could be done by better incentivising schools through the tax system.

Third, standards.

There is no doubt that education has improved in recent years. I have a great deal of admiration for the work the Government – and in particular, Nick Gibb – has done to improve standards.

The evidence is clear. The Government has furnished our children’s education with more rigour. The proportion of six year olds passing the phonics check increased from 58 per cent in 2012 to 82 per cent in 2018. We are stripping out qualifications that hold no real currency. Our Free Schools Programme continues to produce such gems as King’s College London Mathematics School. Since 2010, 1.8 million more pupils are in good or outstanding schools. And we have some of the finest universities in the world.

It is important to build on this and export rigour to every part of our education system and that includes technical education. The Government is starting to do this in its post-16 Skills Plan, which will produce a smaller number of T-Level qualifications that employers recognise and value. The next step is to make sure these new qualifications land safely.

The Free Schools Programme must emphasise community and not get subsumed into larger academies’ broader programmes. And we must apply the logic of high standards to non-mainstream alternative provision, where 1.1 per cent of pupils achieve five good GCSE passes and the supply of good schools is highly variable.

Finally, support for the profession.

It is vital that we support our teachers. We can build the best facilities in the world, but without their most precious element, they are just empty shells.

The education sector needs to continue to attract the brightest individuals. And the Government should support their professional development. We can learn lessons from countries that have a strong record in this area, such as Singapore, which gives classroom teachers more flexibility to hone their trade; places an unusually strong emphasis on peer support (around four fifths are either mentored or a mentor); and has a clearly defined ladder of career progression.

It is also important to make teachers’ lives easier. According to the OECD’s latest international survey, our teachers work more than they used to, and their working week is higher than average. Teachers also spend less time teaching than they did five years ago. Our next Prime Minister must free teachers from unnecessary bureaucracy, and give them more time to do what they do best: teach.

So to sum up.

Skills, social justice, standards, and support for the profession. These should be the four, interlocking foundations of the next Prime Minister’s education programme. Together, they allow those who cannot even see the ladder of opportunity to find it, and they give us all the chance to climb high and build prosperity.

Some of this can only be delivered with wisely targeted resources, but funding alone is not the answer. These four foundations are as much about ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness, as they are about hard cash.

We have a unique chance to address the broad restlessness that exists in society. By extending the ladder of opportunity to those who currently lack it, and by nurturing our raw talents more generally, we can ensure the next generation climbs that ladder and gets the jobs, security, and prosperity that they, and our country, need. It is well within our ability to make sure this happens.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Dominic Raab: I want a fairer Britain, and a more democratic Conservative Party

Dominic Raab is MP for Esher and Walton, and a former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

I believe the central mission of the Conservative Party should be fairness – a fairer deal on Brexit, a fairer deal for workers, and a fairer society so every young person can make the best of their potential, whatever their start in life.

We must keep our promises on Brexit, or we won’t be listened to on anything else. I’m the candidate who has set out the clearest plan, and I’ve shown the most steadfast resolve to make sure we leave by the end of October. I am the Brexiteer who can be relied upon to navigate the rocky road ahead, and make sure we leave without any further delays.

The country needs the finality of leaving, and we as a government need to move forward so we can talk about all the other things we have to offer. I want us to be able to grasp the opportunities of Brexit, from setting our own immigration policy to a more energetic approach to global free trade – which can boost wages, create jobs and cut prices for consumers at home.

I want the Conservatives to be the natural home of the ‘blue collar’ vote. That is why my priority is to raise the point at which people start paying National Insurance and cut the basic rate of income tax – a pay rise for those lowest-paid workers. We mustn’t fall into the predictable trap of letting Labour caricature ours as a party of privilege, or our priorities as being those that favour the wealthy. No one can say that of my plan.

I also want us to build a more meritocratic society – one that gives the aspirational underdog, from a humble background, their shot in life. From reviving Young Apprenticeships for 14- to 16-year-olds to boosting Degree Apprenticeships to give ambitious and hard-working young people more opportunity and wider choice, this should be our guiding light as Conservatives – as I set out at my recent speech to the think tank Onward.

If we’re going to build a more meritocratic society, we as politicians had better practice what we preach. I will end the patronage that has defined career progression in the Government, and appoint the best people for the job – whilst ensuring we have a well-balanced and rounded team. And I will restore collective responsibility in government, which has been missing for far too long.

At the same time, we’ve got to energise our fantastic grassroots – to help us campaign and sell our optimistic vision for the future. Our hard-working members deserve a fairer deal, too. After all they are the ones who canvass, deliver leaflets, organise fundraising events, and support us locally and nationally at election time.

Although there has been a welcome revival in membership levels recently, thanks to the hard work of Brandon Lewis and his team, we need far more members. The key is to create stronger incentives for people to get involved at the local level.

We need to make the Conservative Party a more democratic party, where members feel their views are respected and heard. That means strengthening the links between the voluntary Party and the centre. The first fundamental change I’d make is to enable the whole Party, including our members, to elect the Chairman of the Party Board – rather than it being decided by the Leader. That would give our volunteers a greater role and say in the strategic direction, right at the top of the Party.

At a local level, people join us because they want to make a difference in their communities and for their country. They see the Conservative Party as an organisation which can offer them a way to do that. Yet when they sign up, they are often frustrated to discover that there are relatively few formal mechanisms to do so in practice.

I propose that, in future, Associations should be encouraged to propose policy motions to be debated at Conference – perhaps to kick things off on the Sunday – so members are more involved in debating Party policy. The Party Board could set criteria for motions to be debated on the main stage at Conference. The relevant Cabinet minister would then respond to the motion – engaging directly with our grassroots members.

Not only is that the right thing to do democratically, it would also bring two welcome effects: it widens the talent pool contributing ideas for future policy, and it would revive the attendance levels at Conference which has become too much of a lobbyists’ playground.

We should also engage more with our local Conservative Policy Forums, by giving the best of them a slot at Conference to bring forward their ideas and have them debated and responded to by ministers.

We need to become far better at recruiting and retaining members in other ways, too. The best way to do that is by recognising what individuals do. How about creating an annual Leader’s Dinner, where the best-performing and most committed activists are rewarded with a special dinner hosted by the Leader of the Party?

Let’s extend that emphasis on awards and recognition right across the Party. We can link that to our annual Conference, by having awards at Conference for the best local campaign, the best digital campaign, the outstanding young activist (and many more).

When it comes to attracting younger members, we should extend the current £5 per year membership fee for under-23s to under-25s. Let’s combine the experience of our membership base with a new generation of energetic younger activists.

I want also to revive the Party as a campaigning machine. With that in mind, I would create a bespoke initiative to raise funds to employ more professional Party Agents in our battleground seats. We all know that a terrific local Agent can be the difference between success or failure in marginal seats.

We must also raise our game digitally. We were outgunned in the last election by rival parties, and the Brexit Party showed how far behind the curve we are in the European elections. We can and will get better at digital campaigning – if we invest more money, recruit world class talent, and make the Head of Digital a Director of the Party. Future elections will be won and lost in the digital sphere. We need to take this much more seriously if we’re to give ourselves an edge in digital campaigning at the next election.

I believe this leadership contest is a moment of change. I’m offering a change of vision and a generational change in leadership. To deliver that, we’ll also need to revitalise our campaigning capability, by giving our grassroots a greater role, recognising the inspirational work they do, and sharpening our campaigning cutting edge. That’s the way we can win the next election, and take Britain forward.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Scott Mann: Why I am voting for Harper

Scott Mann is MP for North Cornwall.

We cannot afford to make the wrong decision in this leadership election.  We cannot shuffle around a few chairs at the top table and hope that everything will be ok.

We need new thinking and fresh ideas if we are to stand any chance of restoring credibility with our members and the voters at large. There have been many broken promises over the past three years and we need someone who can be trusted to lead.  Mark Harper is the candidate who can offer this.

The first and most vital thing our new leader will have to do is knuckle down and deliver Brexit.  Mark’s clear preference is to get a new deal.  However, both he and I agree that No Deal must not be ruled out, should we be faced with a choice between No Deal and No Brexit.

Mark’s plan to deliver Brexit is the most credible and realistic on offer.  It comes without the baggage of having sat around the Cabinet table during the past three years, going along with the decisions which have left us in the dire situation we face today.  He is also being straight with you – saying that his experience as Chief Whip tells him that those who say it is possible to leave the EU with a new deal by October 31st are setting out ideas which are simply not credible.

The first stage in his plan is to do something that Theresa May and her Cabinet have never actually managed to do – agree a unified negotiating position, and be disciplined enough to stick to collective responsibility afterwards.

Mark’s experience as a respected and effective Chief Whip also demonstrates how he would be able to properly consult the Parliamentary Party and listen to colleagues, not lecture them.  Yes, that will mean getting colleagues who have differing views about Europe into the same room to agree a collective position but, if anyone is up to that task, it’s Mark.

Instead of sanctioning the strategically disastrous talks with Jeremy Corbyn as those in the Cabinet have done, Mark has always been clear that the only way we are going to get a Brexit deal through is on Conservative and DUP votes with, maybe, just a handful of Labour votes on top.

What’s more, Mark’s plan involves doing something that it’s never clear that the current top team ever did – going back to Brussels to open real and transparent discussions to change the backstop.

The next part of his plan involves rebuilding strong relationships with both the Government and opposition in the Republic of Ireland, as well as both communities and all Parties in Northern Ireland.  As Mark saw firsthand when he was Immigration Minister, UK and Irish officials work incredibly closely to combat illegality at the present border, so by getting Stormont up and running, and having a better relationship with Dublin, we can make progress in a way that hasn’t been possible under our current leadership.

The third element of Mark’s Brexit plan would be to establish better relationships with our European partners – I believe Mark has the communication and diplomatic skills required for this task.

Only through this plan can we both change the backstop and protect the UK’s constitutional integrity.  That’s why I, as someone who campaigned for Brexit, and as someone who represents a part of the country that voted for Brexit, trust Mark to get us out of the EU.

However, our next leader doesn’t just have to deliver Brexit: he or she has to put us in a position where we can win the next general election and defeat Jeremy Corbyn, or whoever is leading the Labour Party at that point.

The first order of business would be to re-establish a proper, functioning Government.  All too often, we have seen Cabinet meetings leaking, members of the Government getting away with saying whatever they want and a back bench Parliamentary Party and the wider membership horrified at both a lack of discipline and lack of grip.

Having not been involved in this Government and being a former Chief Whip respected by colleagues across the Party, Mark is a candidate who is capable of transforming the Cabinet back into a serious, decision-making body.

Mark also agrees that our leader needs to be more accountable to the Parliamentary Party (as set out in Greg Hands’ excellent article here) and that colleagues of all shades of blue must be treated with the respect they deserve. We must remember that we are all one team.

On domestic policy, Mark is right when he distils the values of the Conservative Party down into two elements – freedom and opportunity.

Mark believes that people should be in control over their own lives and that their hard work should be rewarded – and that includes keeping their taxes low. You don’t help people with the cost of living by putting their taxes up, and Mark will reduce the tax burden as we tackle the difficult policy questions that we face.

In the same vein, unlike other candidates, Mark will not be spending this leadership contest making lots of eye-catching but unfunded tax and spending commitments. The Conservative Party needs to retain the fiscal credibility it has spent the last nine years regaining and show it believes in sound money and living within your means. Taxpayers work hard to earn their money and politicians have a duty to spend it wisely.

When it comes to opportunity, Mark and I both believe in social mobility and are keen to see more people from our working class, state-schooled backgrounds have the chance to get the best possible start in life and fulfil their potential.

This not only means prioritising the needs of our schools, but also committing to further education and apprenticeships ahead of putting more taxpayers’ money into our already well-funded and successful university sector.

Finally, to touch on a dimension that is important to most colleagues, Mark is the only candidate in this contest who had to win their seat off another Party.  As someone who has done the same in North Cornwall and has seen what an effective election campaigner Mark is in my patch, I trust him to have our back, and make sure we can all keep our seats (and gain some more too).

Mark may be the underdog in this race, but it’s always the underdog that has the best fighting spirit. That spirit is what our Party and our country needs right now.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Alison Wolf: The Augar Review takes productivity, Industrial Strategy and skills seriously. Will the new Prime Minister listen?

Alison Wolf is professor of public sector management at King’s College London and a cross-bench peer. She was a member of the Post-18 Review of Education and Funding Independent Panel (the Augar Review) but writes in a personal capacity.

Last week, the Prime Minister launched the Augar Review of Post-18 Education and Funding. Her speech strongly endorsed some of its major recommendations, notably for further education. The media in the room duly directed their questions to issues affecting universities, ignoring the ‘other 50 per cent’ who don’t head straight to higher education. Wider media coverage also focused overwhelmingly on university fees, while various university bodies piled in with criticisms.

There was, meanwhile, near total radio silence from the main Conservative leadership contenders. As a member of the Augar panel, I’m personally relieved that they stayed quiet. A new government does not need expensive ill-understood commitments or ‘not on my patch’ promises, sparked during the campaign by lobbying or leading media questions. However, Augar addresses major issues, affecting our entire population, with large price tags attached. These will be waiting for the next Prime Minister.

A Westminster village take is that the Review was a panic-stricken response to Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to abolish university fees; and that with Labour also languishing among young voters, it’s no longer really relevant. That’s completely wrong. Our technical and adult education are in crisis. There is a growing gap between what the labour market demands and what post-18 education supplies. And polls and focus groups alike show strong public support for vocational and technical provision.

Augar provides what it says on the tin: a review of all post-18 education, and how to pay for it. And the review panel discovered that technical and further education were in even worse shape than any of us had realised. Courses teaching technician and advanced craft skills are vanishing from English education at speed, even though the economy is crying out for these skills. Today’s young people are effectively offered a single choice. A full degree, now – or nothing.

Overall, Augar’s recommendations are designed to reverse this idiocy, and to do so at little extra cost to the Exchequer. But of course, they are made within a wider fiscal context. A new Prime Minister will be heavily lobbied by the powerful education lobbies who represent universities and schools, and are focused on an imminent spending review.

Back in 2010, English universities got a major boost in their finances. Student fees of £9000 (now £9250) gave them a big increase in income per student. Universities have generally had an excellent decade, as one of the best-resourced systems in the world. They have also cemented their position among the world’s very best for quality and research productivity, and are enormously attractive to overseas students, who bring in over £15 billion a year in fees and other spending.

Compare this with the rest of education (let alone with social care). In schools, real spending in the sixth form has fallen by more than 20 per cent per student. Spending on 5 – 16 year olds has meanwhile been held fairly constant in real terms: but costs have risen faster than inflation, so there are plenty of school horror stories with which to fill the pages – and no doubt many more to come before the autumn spending review.

As for further education, which serves the whole non-university adult population from 18 to 85 plus, its funding has been devastated. The core adult education and skills budget has fallen by 45 per cent in real terms since 2010, student numbers have plummeted, and public spending per student is more than six times as high in universities as it is in the nation’s colleges.

This imbalance looks even harder to justify in the light of regional inequalities. Among young people in their late 20s, over half of the London-schooled went to university: it’s under 30 per cent in the North East and the South West. Except in London, young women are enormously and increasingly more likely to attend university than young men. So among young men in the North East, only one in five went on to university; in the South West, less than a quarter. The country’s single-minded determination to reach ‘50 per cent in HE’ has left a lot of people behind with no good alternatives.

Unfortunately, reform will face an additional obstacle this autumn. Universities’ good fortune – which they are, very naturally, defending – was fuelled by an illusion, and the Treasury is now facing the washback from its too-clever-by-half fiscal trick.

Sean Coughlan, the BBC’s education correspondent, described this far more vividly than we did, when he asked, last year: How can you lend someone almost £120 billion and not have a hole in your budget? Or how can you give out £17 billion, only receive back £3 billion and not be any worse off? Answer: When you’re the government and it’s the student loans system.

Student fees are paid to universities through a loan mechanism, and the Treasury decided that loans didn’t need to appear on the books as spending: after all, they would be repaid. But of course, that wasn’t actually true – only some of them would be. Under England’s ‘income contingent’ system, people, rightly, only pay education loans back as and when they earn a certain amount, and a lot will never be repaid. In his 2018 fiscal sustainability report, the head of the Office for Budget Responsibility observed that “The loan book is large and growing rapidly…the value of the outstanding loan book is set to rise to around 20 per cent of GDP by the 2040s.’

The Office for National Statistics has now called time on this piece of creative accounting. The money that won’t be repaid will have to be accounted for; and so a large part of the universities’ budget will be back on the table in the next spending review, to be fought over rather than safely ring-fenced as not really spending at all.

Until Corbyn suddenly launched his ‘no fees’ policy, there was, finally, a cross-party consensus in this country: the costs of higher education should be shared between the student and the taxpayer, the individual and the community. Politicians should be reassured that there is also strong support for this position in the population at large.

But things do need to be paid for. And in the super-complex world of education financing, it is essentially impossible to change anything without someone losing – and finding some moral high ground from which to attack the change. Augar does its sums and recommends more money for the neediest – cash to get FE back on its feet, to invigorate technical education, to allow adults to retrain and progress, and to reinstate maintenance grants for the poorest students. Its analysis takes productivity, skills gaps and the Industrial Strategy seriously. Come the autumn, we will find out whether a new government does the same.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Julian Brazier: Yes, the Conservatives must engage with young people – but challenge their worldview, not concede it

Sir Julian Brazier is a former Defence Minister, and was MP for Canterbury from 1987-2017.

James Kanagasooriam’s interesting recent ConservativeHome article summarised polling and analysis by Onward which should alarm all Conservatives. His thesis is powerful: we have lost young people’s support, and even that of those in mid-life, to an extraordinary extent.

His conclusion however – that we should poll young people and, based on the findings, move policy towards their wishes – is less convincing. Clearly engaging with youth and, indeed, those in their twenties and thirties, is crucial. But simply analysing what young people want and offering as much of it as we can afford would lead, I believe, nowhere, for three reasons:

We have allowed the Left to dominate schools and universities to the point where traditional Conservative voices on everything, from free market economics to the dangers of transgender therapy for children, are being excluded. As a tweet quoting Roger Scruton recently put it: “Once identified as right-wing you are beyond the pale of argument; your views are irrelevant, your character discredited, your presence in the world a mistake. You are not an opponent to be argued with, but a disease to be shunned. This has been my experience”

Ironically, just days later, an unscrupulous New Statesman journalist stitched him up in an interview, which resulted in the government sacking him from his (unpaid) post chairing an advisory group on housing design. His response is worth reading .

The gay former chairman of Kent University Conservative Association reflected after the 2017 general election that it was harder to come out as a Conservative than as a gay man. Some Conservative students complain of biased marking in subjects like history, economics and politics by Marxist professors. A Canterbury A level student activist tells me that he does not dare let staff at his (academically strong) school know he is a Conservative. Across the country ‘safe spaces’ and ‘no-platforming’ of those with conservative views by student unions are widely reported. Last year, Nigel Biggar, an Oxford academic was vilified by a string of his colleagues for teaching that the British Empire had benefits as well as drawbacks, while Cambridge has recently banned the distinguished polymath, Jordan Petersen, from a visiting lectureship because he was once photographed with a student wearing an offensive tee-shirt.

Rather than swallowing the world-view of young people today, we need to challenge their ideas. More of us need to follow Jacob Rees-Mogg’s programme of speaking regularly in universities, and we need to introduce scrutiny of the syllabus and teaching materials in schools, using such levers as the new Office for Students and Ofsted. If those bodies prove supine, we could empower students to apply to a tribunal to have taxpayer funds cut off when their unions are promoting political safe spaces, no platforming or showing political bias in the allocation of funds.

Students are justifiably angry about a system of fees and loans which plunges them into levels of debt that the majority are likely never to fully repay. Yet, if we make comparisons with abroad, we see that the systemic problem is deeper than students – and the wider public – understand. In most countries, including other European countries, most students go to their local universities from home. In America, public sector tuition fees are usually lower than the UK and the private sector has built endowment funds to support the talented less-well-off. In Britain, almost uniquely, the vast majority of students go away to university, and rack up huge debts to cover both crippling accommodation costs and heavy tuition fees.

This is compounded by many universities packing their benches with people whose study is unlikely to benefit their careers. In November, the Education Select Committee published a report denouncing many universities as poor value and inflexible. While stressing the quality of our best institutions, the report highlighted that fact that almost half of recent graduates work in non-graduate roles.  Indeed, more widely far too many people are studying degrees in subjects for which they are clearly not qualified. What point is there in reading engineering, if you cannot pass a Maths A Level, for example?

Too many of our weaker universities are treating students as cash cows, who rack up debt without improving their prospects. This is producing an angry graduate underclass with shattered expectations, who are consigned to jobs they see as beneath them – and with no prospect of paying off their debts. Not surprising that the Onward study shows that those who qualify as apprentices are much more likely to vote Conservative than recent graduates.

The rise in interest rates has provided the final twist in the garrotte. That can and must – be reversed, but doing so will be expensive for the taxpayer. More important is that any serious (and affordable) reform must start from recognising that the design of our university sector is unaffordable: the traditional British residential model, which delivers some of the world’s best universities at the top end, is unsuitable for delivering affordable, job-enhancing teaching and training for those with lower attainment levels.

The second quartile of each cohort, broadly the bottom half of today’s university sector, needs a shift towards local availability of HE (or FE), avoiding crippling accommodation costs, as its counterpart in most of Europe does. Equally, we need to move towards a much higher proportion of vocational degrees, as in the USA and the Far East – and as the recent Select Committee report recommends. Loading the cost of the current behemoth onto young people whose earnings will never justify it – and ending up with the state paying because they cannot repay – is the worst of all worlds.

The third issue is the most difficult of all. The report shows attitudes on three critical and related subjects whose handling needs to involve explanation as well as listening. First, a high proportion of young people see us as racist – or at least as anti-diversity – which helps to explain why members of ethnic minorities are disproportionately unlikely to support us (they are also disproportionately young).

Furthemore, a bare majority of the young are in favour of controlling immigration, but by a much smaller proportion than in older age groups. Anecdotally, this reflects a widespread view among students and young graduates that immigration controls are racist, on the one hand, set against angry opposition to immigration among the less-educated, on the other.

Finally, access to accommodation – unaffordable housing to buy and rent – is a major concern, among the young and older groups right up into their forties.

This last point is hardly surprising given the cost and shortage of housing, but Conservatives have failed to explain the linkage between unaffordable housing and spiralling population, largely driven by heavy net migration. Last week, the ONS reported, according to the Daily Telegraph, that they are revising their population estimate for 2026 up by a further 700,000 over and above the three million increase over the next seven years they had earlier projected. These numbers, combined with ‘domestic’ growth (heavily increased by replacing emigrating pensioners with incoming young people) could absorb most or all of our new housebuilding, leaving little for the disappointed aspirants.

It will require a major effort to explain that the mathematics of supply and demand in our housing market is at the heart of the need to tackle net migration, not, crucially, racism.

James Kanagasooriam is right. We must address young people, or the Conservative Party will wither. Post-Brexit, it should be our highest domestic priority, but – like Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms on welfare – our response must seek to make the weather, not just respond to it.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com