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Westlake Legal Group > Universities and Skills

Annabel Denham: Don’t take the business vote for granted

Annabel Denham is Associate Director at The Entrepreneurs Network.

In the face of prolonged political uncertainty, UK business has proven remarkably resilient. Since 2010, the number of people engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activity has increased by a third from its previous long-run rate. Over the last four years we have seen a 35 per cent rise in the number of high-growth companies. Pro-enterprise policies, from business rates relief to corporation tax cuts, have played an important role in signalling that Britain is open for business.

But no company is an island. Founders need to have confidence in the general economic outlook, so policies matter. Concerns have been voiced, not least by the business community, that Labour’s radical manifesto pledges if implemented would stunt innovation and harm the economy. By its own calculations it would push up day-to-day spending by £80 billion in 2023-24, and that excludes the extraordinary £58 billion vow subsequently made to WASPI women.

Nonetheless, the Conservatives cannot take entrepreneurs for granted. Their own manifesto featured a welcome focus on skills, infrastructure and research. Further, their comparatively modest spending pledges were viewed as “a pro-enterprise vision” by business owners. But vague plans to “review” business rates, “clamp down” on late payments, or “reform” Entrepreneurs’ Relief will do little to inspire. Some founders will be troubled by the Tory promise that “overall [migrant] numbers will come down,” given access to talent remains a persistent barrier to business growth.

And there is a third way: after all, Jo Swinson claims that the Liberal Democrats are the “natural party of business”. The Lib Dem leader also claimed last month that she was Britain’s next Prime Minister and three weeks later her Party is polling at around 14 per cent, so perhaps such bold statements shouldn’t be taken at face value.

We recently launched our Startup Manifesto in partnership with Coadec, outlining the 21 policies the next government – majority, minority or coalition – should implement to boost British business. What entrepreneurs need to build scale-ups is simple: world-class talent from here and abroad; the right kind of incentives to support the creation of early-stage businesses and then access to the capital needed to grow; and a clear set of rules and regulations flexible enough to encourage new and innovative startup business models.

This means visa reform, because while 14 per cent of UK residents are immigrants, 49 per cent of the UK’s fastest-growing businesses, and 11 out of the UK’s 16 “unicorns” (pre-IPO startups with a valuation of over $1bn) have at least one foreign-born co-founder. In our knowledge economy, prosperity is closely linked to our ability to produce and attract highly-skilled talent.

The last government was right to replace the Tier 1 Entrepreneur and Graduate Entrepreneur visas with the new Innovator and Start Up visas giving incubators, accelerators and VC firms a key role as external endorsing bodies. As the Tory Manifesto states, “Our start-up visa…will ensure that we can attract the entrepreneurs of the future who want to start great businesses here in the UK”. But flaws in implementation risk making it even harder for foreign entrepreneurs to create jobs in the UK. The process is overly bureaucratic and needs to be simplified.

It means unlocking more investment into startups – by streamlining the application process for advance assurance for EIS and SEIS tax relief, for instance. Or by unleashing pension fund capital to invest in early-stage businesses through VC funds by adjusting the pension charge cap. For many founders, seeking investment from abroad is not a strategic decision, it happens because the funds are not available in this country. VCs completed £63.7 billion of deals in the US but just £5.8 billion in the UK in 2017. While the steady flow of investment from overseas can be seen as a vote of confidence in the UK, it does mean that the fruits of our own startups’ rapid growth will be enjoyed abroad.

It means working with startups to ensure tech regulation does not create new barriers to entry. The FCA’s regulatory sandbox has helped small companies concentrate on innovation as well as compliance and should be extended to other tech sectors in the guise of five-year provisional licences to innovative companies with business models that conflict with existing regulations.

Don’t just take our word for it: our Startup Manifesto has the backing of over 250 UK entrepreneurs. Some have built household names – like Justine Roberts of Mumsnet or Taavet Hinrikus of TransferWise. Others are just getting started. All are asking that the next government prioritise the needs of Britain’s startups and scale-ups.

In recent years the Conservatives have pursued policies that Thatcher would hardly recognise and, in doing so, have thrown into doubt their claim to be the “Party of Business”. Though Labour have tacked to the left, the Tories cannot grow complacent. Since the EU Referendum many entrepreneurs feel they are without a political home: by implementing the 21 policy recommendations in our Startup Manifesto, the next government could help them feel anchored.

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Daniel Hannan: Where would we now find another Norman Stone?

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

One good thing – only one – came out of Oliver Letwin’s wrecking amendment earlier this month. It meant that I was able to come back from Strasbourg for Norman Stone’s memorial service.

Had the Withdrawal Bill been approved by the Commons as scheduled, we MEPs would have been voting on it last week, Britain would be leaving tomorrow – and I would have missed my chance to bid a final farewell to perhaps the most capacious, restless, inspiring mind I have encountered.

As it was, I was able to take my place in St Martin-in-the-Fields among hundreds of (for want of a better shorthand) conservative intellectuals. There were dozens of Tory peers and MPs, scores of distinguished writers and academics and a good number of those anti-communist Mittel-European thinkers who, in many ways, made up Norman’s hinterland.

Arriving just in time from the European Parliament, I found myself between Peter Lilley and Alan Sked, the LSE historian who founded the Anti-Federalist League in 1991, changing its name to UKIP in 1993. Dominic Cummings ambled in a little late wearing what looked like a black gilet for the occasion. Michael Gove and Andrew Roberts were among those who gave readings. You get the picture: here was the tribe massing to mourn one of its own.

Not just the tribe, though. Norman was generous and eclectic in his friendships. Also giving readings were Tim Garton Ash, the historian whose enthusiasm for European integration recently won him the Charlemagne Prize, and Robert Harris, the brilliant Blairite novelist who turned Norman into “Fluke” Kelso, the alcoholic Scottish hero of Archangel – portrayed, to Norman’s amused delight, by Daniel Craig in the film version.

We sometimes toss out the word “influential” too easily, but Norman was a man who truly shaped the thinking of a whole generation of historians. He taught his students to look with fresh eyes, to notice what others had missed. He amassed what must be the greatest trove of historical asides collected by a single human being. His histories, like his gravelly-voiced soliloquys, fizzed with facts that were at once pertinent and astonishing: Nikita Khruschev bought his maths lessons from a starving professor for a sack of potatoes; serfdom was formally abolished in England only in 1922. Those gems are picked more or less randomly from the hundreds that stud Norman’s last work, Hungary: A Short History, published earlier this year. To read that book, or any in his oeuvre, is like sitting spellbound as the master raconteur poured whisky in and anecdotes out.

Could Norman happen today? What I mean is, could a professor with his personality and his opinions achieve an equivalent position in our national conversation? One has only to put the question.

Norman’s critics held that his lifestyle disqualified him as a serious academic. They wrote him off as a flâneur, an adventurer, a journalist. He certainly had a colourful romantic life, and showed scant respect for the usual pieties of his caste.

But there is no doubting his scholarship. When he was 43, he left Cambridge to become Professor of Modern History at Oxford, arguably the supreme accolade for an academic historian. His books were not frequent, but they won prizes. His knack for languages bordered on the miraculous. He spoke French, German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croat and Spanish. More impressively, he mastered both Hungarian and Turkish, becoming convinced in the process that they were more closely connected than linguists usually allow. When I say “mastered”, I don’t mean, as historians sometimes do, that he could get through source material with the aid of a dictionary. I mean that he could deliver a speech or conduct a TV interview in that tongue.

While he was at Cambridge, his fellow dons wondered whether anyone could be quite as linguistically capable as he appeared, and would seat him at dinner next to any visiting Eastern European scholar, hoping to show him up. The two would chat away animatedly. Afterwards, the other fellows would ask the visitor whether Stone was as fluent as he claimed. “Oh, yes,” the answer would come, “he has a quite extraordinary idiomatic grasp of my language – but he appears to have learned it from a pimp”.

In an age when many tutors put in office hours before returning to family homes, Norman was a constant presence, always the centre of attention, the aperçus flowing. (“There is nothing inevitable in history, so good historians should never use the word ‘inevitable’ – except for ‘German counter-attack.’”) He was more interested in teaching than in writing. He liked students, taking an unfeigned interest in their development, remembering every detail of what they had written.

Had he been on the Left, he would have been regarded as one of our towering public intellectuals. His bohemianism and affairs of the heart would have been seen as natural, indeed laudable, embellishments. But Norman committed the ultimate sin: he was a Thatcherite. Anarchic and irreverent, he never liked governments telling people what to do. In the end, his disdain for the pettiness and provincialism of the British academy drove him to give up Oxford’s top job for a larger budget and a higher salary in Ankara.

When Norman first started teaching, around one in three British academics identified as Right-of-Centre. Today, that number is one in eight – and far lower in the humanities. To be a conservative academic is to be a class traitor. Norman’s death was marked by a poisonous attack by the Regius Professor of History at Cambridge, masquerading as a Guardian obituary. Norman had committed the sin, apparently, of being a Right-wing journalist instead of a serious academic. (That professor’s next article likened Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament to the Nazi seizure of power. Any amount of journalistic bombast is fine in an academic, it seems, provided he is on the Left.)

Heterodoxy and free thinking are being snuffed out in the institutions that exist to defend them. A modern Norman Stone, finding the doors of higher education barred, would go elsewhere. He would doubtless be better off financially, but the rest of us would be impoverished.

I did not grieve for my old friend as I left the church: he lived and died on his own terms, God rest his soul. But I grieved for the state of higher education in Britain. I grieve still.

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

Neil O’Brien: How we can win support from younger voters – and turn our present strength into an enduring majority

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

It’s time to look to the future. Brexit isn’t quite over yet, but the Prime Minister has landed a great deal, and he has got off to a fantastic start, with a blistering series of popular announcements on the police, schools and hospitals. We’ve soared in the polls, while Corbyn deflates like a sad balloon

But let’s not stop now. Let’s work to turn our present strength into an enduring majority. In particular, let’s think about how we do better among younger voters.

In elections between 1950 and 2010, the Conservatives were on average eight per cent behind Labour among younger voters, but nine per cent ahead among older voters. But in the last election, we are were 35 points behind among the young (18 to 24-year-olds) and 36 points ahead among over-65s.

For me, the most concerning thing wasn’t being behind among the very young, but being behind among everyone under age 47. That meant we were behind among people with jobs, kids, bills… responsibilities – all things which tended to make people Conservative during previous years.

Doing better among younger voters isn’t about gimmicks: it’s about having answers to the big issues facing young people and young families.

Some of this is about action on issues younger voters care about. For example, we have a great record on the environment. We have the lowest emissions since 1888, and are one of the first countries in the world to set deadlines to end coal use, to go to all electric cars and net zero emissions.

But a lot of it is about doing things that will benefit young people directly.

Let’s start with housing. Declining homeownership explains a big chunk of the age gap in voting that has opened up. Looking at middle income people aged 25-34, the home ownership rate fell from two thirds in 1996, to just a quarter by 2016.

I’ve written elsewhere about the long term action we need on both supply and demand to drive up home ownership: building upwards and regenerating brownfield sites in our cities; rebalancing the economy to spread growth beyond the south east; getting away from the kind of piecemeal, tacked-on development in our towns and villages which maximises opposition to new housing; and making sure developers pay for the cost of the new infrastructure that’s needed with new housing.

But it’s also about building the tax reforms we’ve made since 2015. Those rebalancing tax reforms have led to the first sustained period for some time in which we have seen growth in home ownership, not just growth in the private rented sector.

But a plan to fix the housing problem over the coming decades isn’t enough. As well as a long-term solution, we need to provide immediate help. Many young people feel they’re on a cruel treadmill, unable to save because they are paying high rents. There are many who could afford a repayment mortgage (in fact it would be cheaper than renting), but they can’t save up for a deposit. So let’s create deposit loans: like Help to Buy, the government would take a repayable stake. But unlike Help to Buy, the purchaser would not have to provide a deposit up front.

There are a further group of people who might be able to save up a deposit over time, if only their existing rental costs were lower. They are the sorts of people who would have been helped by council housing in earlier generations – but (perversely) wouldn’t get it today, precisely because they’re working, so don’t qualify.

We could fund the creation of a huge number of cheap rented homes for young working people by transferring the remaining local authority housing stock into charitable housing associations, unlocking huge value.

Another part of our offer to younger people has to be about the cost of education. We have to be bold, not tinker.

Let’s cut the cost of going to university in half. And let’s pay for it by driving down the number of low value, mickey mouse courses which aren’t good value, either for students or the taxpayer. At present, one in ten graduates isn’t earning enough to pay back a single penny of their loan even ten years after graduation. And thanks to the LEO dataset, we now have a good idea of which courses they are, at which universities.

We need to build up technical education and apprenticeships. In Germany 20 per cent of the workforce has a higher technical qualification, but in Britain it’s just four per cent, while we rely heavily on importing electricians, plumbers, technicians and engineers from the rest of the world.

Tony Blair set a target for 50 per cent young people to go to university, but no such target for technical education.
We spend six times more per person on university students than technical students. We should become the champions for the 50 per cent who choose not to go to university too. We are introducing the new T levels, have brought in the Apprenticeship Levy, and are driving up number of Higher Apprenticeships. But there is much more to do.

But if we are serious about winning over younger voters we also need to talk about the pressures of life with a young family. Childcare costs are a huge worry for many.

Successive governments have built up a rather a confusing array of policies: the 15 and 30 free hours offers, Tax Free Childcare, the Childcare Element of Universal Credit, not to mention other benefits for children like Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. Each has complex rules on eligibility and requires a certain amount of bureaucracy to claim.

We could be incremental, and refine and build on existing policies. For example, one frustration with using the 30 free hours for working families is that it only covers 38 weeks a year, following school terms. So how much you pay yo-yos up and down wildly each month. We could make it year-round, so it is more generous and predictable.

Or we could think more radically. As Conservatives we think people are best placed to make their own decisions. For example, when two police women were prosecuted for looking after each others’ children in 2009, conservatives saw it was an example of socialist meddling gone mad.

One way to simplify this alphabet soup of complex policies would be to bring back the tax allowances for children which Labour abolished in the 1970s. Tax allowances for children existed between 1909 and 1977, and gave a higher personal allowance for people with children, on the conservative principle that you should be able to provide for your own family before you pay tax. Rather than taking money off people, and then getting them to jump through hoops to claim it back, we could go back to just leaving it with people in the first place.

There are lots of other things we could do. But as we move into the post-Brexit era, it’s time to look to the future.
Let’s make sure that in our next manifesto, we think big for younger people.

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Peter Ainsworth: Universities, rather than government, should lend to their students

Peter Ainsworth is the Managing Director of EM Applications and is the author of Universities challenged: funding higher education through a free-market ‘graduate tax’.

James Frayne astutely explains that once Brexit has occurred a major plank of the Conservative Party’s appeal to working-class voters falls away and it “needs to do a lot more for working class voters – and very fast.”

Perhaps anticipating this requirement, the Institute of Economic Affairs ran a competition over the summer to identify a policy proposal that would provide opportunity for all. The winning entry, announced last Thursday, could well be the proposition the post-Brexit Conservative Party needs as it distributes state largesse from the privileged and remain-voting university-educated to the broader population.

“EdEGG”, as the policy proposal was named, aka The Education, Enterprise and Giving-back Grant, is an innovative policy which, without costing the government a penny in additional expenditure, provides a nest egg of opportunity at age 18.

By re-arranging the flows of money into higher education so that universities, rather than the government, lend to their students, and receive income-related repayments from them, the taxpayer is saved the £10.6bn that is currently lost on student loans. Combined with the £2.7bn generated through the Apprenticeship Levy and sharing equally and fairly between all 18-year olds there is enough to provide each of them with a £20,000 credit. This can be used towards: (i) further education or training, (ii) the launch of a new business or (iii) voluntary activities. The money does not have to be used at age 18. It is a Lifetime Opportunity Credit, offering financial support at many different stages of life.

Rob Owen OBE, Chief Executive of the St Giles Trust, which helps people facing severe disadvantage to find jobs, says: “Many of our clients feel they have no stake in society. They don’t have a bank of Mum and Dad and have no access to even small pots of money to pay for training courses – especially pragmatic skills.”

Ironically, while St Giles’ clients receive little support, those children who attend university, coming predominantly from wealthier backgrounds, do benefit from significant state aid in the form of the subsidisation of their student loan. EdEGG’s re-distribution of this subsidy addresses a root cause of inequality and provides the same help for all, regardless of region or social background.

Under EdEGG, universities and other post-18 providers can set their own fee levels but must share the risk faced by the student, relying in part on post-graduation income-related payments in order to survive and prosper. With this alignment of interests, institutions will ensure that what is being taught is useful, they will re-design courses to make the most effective use of time on campus and provide “after-sales-support” to un- or under-employed graduates. Arts and Humanities courses will thrive as they develop the creativity needed in the robot age. The NHS will benefit from more doctors being trained as the limit on the number of medical students, a consequence of the government bearing the cost, can be lifted. The institutions will benefit from less red tape and a government guarantee on loans made to them.

EdEGG funds may also be used to help launch a business by providing the necessary initial capital. To give every start-up the best chance of success, EdEGG funds are only released after a bank has agreed to lend it at least an equal amount. As the bank will be at risk it will have a powerful incentive only to approve propositions that have merit.

Alternatively, EdEGG will help finance the creation of a Community Interest Company (CIC), to provide services – which could be a youth, elderly, music or theatre group – that benefit local people. To confirm that a CIC has popular support, and that the community is willing to share in the risk of the venture, a total of £1,000 must be raised from 100 local citizens.

Finally, any EdEGG credit that is unused by age 55 will be paid to that person’s pension plan, subject to them confirming that they have carried out voluntary work that benefited others equal in hours to the EdEGG credit divided by the minimum wage.

At launch, EdEGG will create a wave of optimism among the 18-year olds who receive the £20,000 credit. Over the medium-term it will make a university education always worthwhile – any career hiccups and the institution will be in touch, keen to help. Many more people will be able to afford vocational training, there will be a jump in new business start-ups and a leap in the formation of community-enhancing projects.

In the long-term it is a game-changer, transforming the mojo of the country as each new generation has opportunities opened to them.

Using free-market principles to achieve a progressive end at nil cost to the Exchequer, EdEGG is not merely feasible, it is politically compelling. By requiring universities to share in the risk their students take and freeing them from much red-tape, it directs help to the voting constituencies the Conservative Party needs to win over – the young and Frayne’s non-university-educated “working class”.

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Robert Halfon: The Thomas Cook bosses should pay for their greed

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

The greatest democratic exercise of all…a general election

Whatever one’s view about the Supreme Court’s decision, it is worth noting that twice in the past three weeks, the Prime Minister has called a parliamentary vote for a general election – the greatest democratic exercise of all – and which could resolve these issues once and for all.

I have voted for a general election twice in the past month, as I wish to hold myself to account to the people of Harlow.  Both of these votes have been opposed in Parliament by Labour and the other opposition parties. Do they believe in democracy or not?

Thomas Crook

It seems extraordinary that, yet again, a long-standing, British company, founded 178 years ago, has crashed and burned because of the ineptitude and greed of the management. Figures published show that the senior directors carved up £47 million for their bonuses and wages over the past twelve years, all the while, the company’s assets were going from bad to worse.

Not only have hundreds of thousands of British holiday-makers had their holidays and lives ruined and disrupted, but spare a thought for the 21,000 Thomas Cook employees who, through no fault of their own, are suddenly out of their jobs.

Whilst the senior management will no doubt go back to their millionaire lifestyles, the ordinary employee will be at home without a salary and a risk to their pension.

This is all grist to the Corbyn, anti-capitalist mill. Conservatives must have an answer to the failure of incompetent management and corporate greed – especially when taxpayers’ money is involved. How about, rather than just the hard-pressed taxpayer having to pay for all the compensation, flights and insurance for Thomas Cook customers, why shouldn’t the company directors open their fat wallets and give some of their money back to the taxpayer?

It’s time that we looked at corporate laws and make sure that those responsible for the mess, are also responsible for clearing it up

We have an opportunity; let’s seize it

As Tom Watson has put it, this year’s Labour Party Conference has been like “a drive-by shooting”. Their civil war is out in the open for all to see. As happens with every hardline revolution, the revolutionaries eventually turn on each other, and “the revolution devours its own children”.

If this civil strife was not bad enough, the Opposition leadership has proposed a range of policies calculated to appeal to the few, rather than the many. Abolishing Ofsted, the four-day week – alongside billions of pounds of unfunded promises to be spent on anything and everything.

So, as Conservatives – even with the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the prorogation of Parliament – we have a real chance here to unify as a Party.

The truth is that around 80 to 90 percent of the Party are united behind the Brexit position and almost 100 percent of the Party is united behind policies to spend more on education, health and policing. We have a choice; either we can argue about leaving the EU, or we can set out policies on public services and social justice that really capture the public’s imagination.

Don’t be fooled by the polling data – complacency is the enemy

Despite our rise in the polls, many of the Corbyn messages on austerity still resonate. People are struggling with the cost of living. Nearly a million people are living in overcrowded accommodation. One in four have less than £95 in savings.

Complacency is the enemy.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been wonderful to see the rise of the Conservatives in the polls and Labour’s decline. At the time of writing, the latest YouGov polling data states that we are 11 points ahead of Labour.

But we’ve been here before. If we think back to the 2017 election, we had a confident lead in the run-up – at times, 20-points ahead of Labour – and we all know what happened then.

It’s also worth remembering that only until recently Labour were ahead of us in some polls. The Brexit Party remains strong, and could potentially take millions of Conservative votes. Meanwhile, Labour Party is significantly close in many target/marginal seats.

The worst thing that could happen is if we, Conservatives, think this election will be a walk in the park. It’s true that, if we get Brexit sorted on October 31st, things could be a lot better, but it will still be probably one of the toughest elections to fight.

Conservatism must also find an attack-line against Corbyn which isn’t about him being a “Marxist” – as I have written about before on ConservativeHome. Tories have to look for a narrative that provides a meaningful way to explain to ordinary folk the damage that a Corbyn-Government would do to both our economy and our public services.

Williamson: A real vocational education reformer

Could Gavin Williamson be one of the real reforming Education Secretaries and transform vocation and skills? Alongside Sajid Javid, he is one of the very few cabinet ministers to have gone to an FE college and has a real passion and understanding for skills and apprenticeships.

Whilst some have criticised the fact that there is no longer a dedicated Skills Minister, I see it quite differently; skills and apprenticeships will now receive significant attention, playing a major role in the Education Secretary’s brief and having a significant voice in the Cabinet, for the first time.

It was good to see that in his address to the Universities UK Conference two weeks ago, Williamson spoke so passionately and set out a vision for skills in our country. He encouraged “collaboration” between higher education institutions, schools and colleges to “drive this country forward” in terms of skills, and recognised that we must “boost further education and its links with industry and business”.

Furthermore, Boris Johnson has announced an extra £400 million for 16-19 education which should make a significant difference. It certainly helps that both the Chancellor and Education Secretary are passionate about FE and will ensure that the sector is well looked after.

Williamson seems to understand vocational education and the need to build up its prestige, in a way that many in top Government positions often don’t. I’m hopeful that we could see, under his stewardship, a very exciting future for apprenticeships and skills in our country.

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Chris Skidmore: Creating the next Stanford or MIT of the future – right here in Britain

Chris Skidmore is Minister of State jointly at the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.  He is MP for Kingswood.

Britain’s universities are home to some of the world’s brightest and best minds. Scientists and researchers are hard at work cracking the toughest problems, from modelling the polar ice-sheets to developing new antibiotics. Their ground-breaking work inspires young people and changes people’s lives. We rank first or second on most metrics, coming only behind the US – a country with far bigger budgets. It’s a great British success story.

But other countries have taken note and are massively scaling up their own efforts. Just look at China: they’ve committed to spending a whopping five per cent of their GDP on R&D. South Korea has already reached 4.3 per cent. The UK lags way behind at just 1.7 per cent.

This isn’t just a twenty-first century ‘science race’, like the space race of the last century. It matters because investing in R&D is the best way for modern economies to raise productivity, especially in the face of increased global competition.  In 2016, the UK committed to reaching to 2.4 per cent by 2027. If we achieve this, it will revolutionise our economy. But it depends on getting two things right.

The first is about people. As we leave the EU, it is vital that the UK becomes even more attractive for international research talent. Earlier this year, we announced a new fast-track visa plan, designed to attract elite researchers and scientists to the UK.

And today, we are unveiling 78 new Future Leaders Fellows – helping early-career researchers to do their best work, benefitting from £78 million investment and access to our world-class universities.  These people are truly inspiring – relocating from all over the world to continue their amazing work right here in the UK, such as new research into ocean oxidisation, violence against women, quantum thermodynamics and self-driving cars.

And we want to go further – ensuring that job offers turn into lasting careers in research. This means cutting red tape, eliminating bullying and discrimination, and unlocking the creativity of everyone working in research, whether in universities or industry.

That brings me to my second point. Raising productivity is important for government. But it is arguably even more important for industry. Over two-thirds of our national R&D is paid for by private funds. That is a sign of its value to the market, proving that innovation is the path to growth.

I am determined that our private and public R&D systems should work together as effectively as possible. This means universities, government and industry working together to share risks and to convert great ideas into new businesses, new industries and new products and services.  Universities have shown themselves to be more than capable of playing their part. Just take the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund, where universities have secured over £2bn from industry and private sources into 54 projects right across the UK.

To build on this, I’m delighted that the government is today unveiling 20 new University Enterprise Zones. Established with £20 million of government funding, these new UEZs will be based in universities right across the country, from Falmouth to Sunderland.  These projects are all about creating a business-friendly environment, helping to build a bridge between academia and business. They will allow local start-ups to co-locate in universities, building the businesses of the future – inspired by university research.

In this way, the Government is supporting and encouraging strong relationships between our world-leading researchers and the business world that can best make use of their ideas.  By fostering effective university-business links, we too can create the Stanford or MIT of the future – right here in the UK – ensuring science and research remains a remarkable success story for many years to come.

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Richard Bingley: Five pillars of higher education success driven by Conservative reforms

Richard Bingley is the Managing Director of a private Higher Education Institution and former Director of a public sector UK University Business School.

What makes a good Higher Education Institution?

For almost a decade, I’ve read numerous policy documents and op-ed pieces about the supposed dire state of UK higher education. Despite the fact that the UK founded three of the world’s top ten universities and checks in at number two on the QS World Ranking of higher education systems.

Often such pontifications are by left-leaning societal advisers or consultants who – no matter how bright and passionate – perhaps have never taught within a university, nor gained the appropriate postgraduate qualification to do so. Their solutions are often to strangle our sector with yet more regulation or formal reviews. They usually involve cutting the tuition fees and/or not trusting the tutor to deliver in class.

Paradoxically, the longer I’ve worked in higher education – in both the public and private sector side – the more straightforward I’ve found it to understand the fee-paying customer. Most rightly want, and deserve, connectivity with experienced, industry-facing tutors, practical curricula relevant to the world of work, and the opportunity to realistically apply for decent job opportunities at the end.

So, let’s be clear: British higher education is at a far stronger place than perhaps it has ever been. The most recent Conservative government innovations have been refreshing both for providers (well, those who are ambitious for their learners) and also for consumers. They have introduced market realism and real-world innovation.

Higher Degree Apprenticeships (HDAs) stand to transform vast sections of the sector, with a major shift away from an outdated textbook approach toward teaching practicalities and underpinning theory hand-in-glove with employers. Graduates with HDAs will get jobs, quite simply because most already are employed by their sponsor.

The downside for higher education is that apprenticeships are too cumbersome to manage and the margin for the teaching institution is far too thin to incentivise widespread engagement or to build in student protection contingencies if something goes wrong.

The newly established Office for Students (OfS), which has already taken a robust intervention to ‘rescue’ a failing provider, has geared itself towards widening access and thinning down the frequency of intensive regulatory reviews, whilst the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has empowered learners to understand the roles and responsibilities of higher education providers.

Quite simply, if marketing is incorrect, then service providers will be held to account (often by publishing corrections and repaying a portion of money to the consumer.) After all, if a learner is paying almost £30,000 for course fees over three years, they surely should have the rights of any comparable consumer.

Most practical academics will tell you that there are common characteristics that drive forward higher-performing education institutions (note, that I didn’t use the word ‘ranking’). Aligned to most reforms described above, my five pillars for success are:

1) Effective, broad-based, governance. Independent-minded, qualified experts, key stakeholders, industry networks and paying customers (student reps) are at the heart of oversight and formal strategic advice. The institution and its staff intuitively know and subscribe to its core mission, inherent strengths and collective sense of purpose.

2) Focus on what matters. The institution’s senior management does not chase ever-changing shadows of market behaviour driven by today’s preposterous levels of media hype. Too many higher education Institutions mimic poor restaurants by offering a vast array of half-baked course products, unrelated to their unique origins and specialisms.

3) Discipline. Learners… turn up on time and be prepared. Turn off the phone. Tutors… informal and formal assessment promptly marked with personal, constructive feed-back. Non-attendees removed and Student Finance informed. The demoralisation of good performers, because bad performers are tolerated, should never be permitted

4) Quality of teaching. Tutors must exude authority. Authority is usually only earned from learners if a) the tutor can point to pre-existing high-achievement in both academia and the ‘real world’, and b) the tutor can apply their career achievement into the classroom in an engaging, structured manner. All tutors must be credible ‘captains of ship’. If you can’t command an audience, don’t apply to a profession which is all about working one!

5) Intensive academic support. If ministers want to widen access and ensure that learners can excel, intensive support of student engagement must be invested in. Academic support is costly and plans outlined in the recent Augar Review to significantly reduce student fees raises a problem in this regard.

Further sector concerns around finance are magnified by Jeremy Corbyn’s policy to scrap tuition fees altogether, and directly fund higher education by £9.5bn (funded by increasing income tax for those above £80,000). This is an unrealistic throwback, and would prove totally unworkable and destructive.

Firstly, the funding pot is too small for the modern-day global business that is British higher education provision.

Second, removing consumer power is likely to make degree programmes less job-market focused, and reverse employability progress made during the past decade. If universities and colleges struggle to gain income from teaching, the top-end will revert principally to research. (Most research that is not ‘world class’ is money down an endless drain: it earns, and pays for, nothing.)

Meanwhile other teaching-intensive institutions, usually the more accessible former-polytechnics and private providers, often sited within Labour’s own heartlands (if any exist these days) will collapse.

In the real world of higher education, cash flow generated by tuition fees matter. It provides more institutional stability and also drives up internationalisation and diversity, both within the teaching curriculum and among the audiences that an institution can reach out to and attract.

If providers struggle further to attract or retain decent lecturers (particularly those with industry experience and contacts – remember, this is a global employment market!), and academic staff development budgets are trimmed further, how can this ultimately help the learner?

For a ‘real world’ example in how a student fee cut might impact upon the coal-face, consider as follows: a Grade 9 ‘Lecturer with little or no classroom teaching experience, nor industry work experience, nor post-grad teaching certificate, is appointed to an undergraduate teaching post at £30,000 per annum. This is likely to occur because a Grade 10 ‘Senior Lecturer’ (circa £50,000 per annum), with much stronger career and academic credentials, including industry experience and contacts, had, in effect, made themselves too expensive for the sector.

This is where we are heading back to under Corbyn’s existing proposal. Lower fees and more regulation aren’t always the best fix.

Strong governance, strong institutional identity, strong discipline, strong teaching and strong academic support, always are.

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Ministers must ensure a visa regime aimed at retaining skilled graduates does just that

Before the Scottish courts stole the news cycle with a judgment that his advice to prorogue Parliament was unlawful, today was going to be the day Boris Johnson tried to revive his credentials as “the most liberal Tory Prime Minister for decades“.

Front and centre of this strategy was the news that the Government is tearing up the restrictions that Theresa May imposed on overseas students, who will once again be allowed to remain in the UK and seek work for two years after the conclusion of their qualification.

This will please the higher education sector, which has for years been highlighting that prospective students from countries such as India are avoiding Britain in favour of studying in countries such as Australia with more liberal regimes. Overseas students pay the full commercial cost for their education, so such decisions have an appreciable impact on university balance sheets.

Meanwhile the Government is touting the decision as an illustration of its commitment to creating an open, global Britain, and as a boost to British soft power.

However, it has been criticised in some quarters for creating a potential ‘back door’ into the country. This is because the plans will allow graduates to compete for jobs “at any skill level” – not just the highly-skilled areas such as engineering, science, and technology being talked up by Johnson – and because it applies to graduates “regardless of the quality of their course”.

For now, this doesn’t seem to be biting. It is telling of the change in the political environment since 2016 that the Brexit Party did not seem to be making much fuss about the visa u-turn, whereas five years ago UKIP would have been all over it. There is truth to the claim that public concern was as much about control over, rather than the details of, our immigration policy.

But the Prime Minister ought to be wary. Political circumstances can change, and when they do things which voters might previously have ignored can take on greater significance. It would be most unwise to imagine that Nigel Farage will continue to abstain from weaponising immigration just because he chooses not to do so today.

Ministers should therefore make sure that this policy does not inadvertently create a route which can be exploited to import low-skilled labour. Otherwise they risk undermining the very sense of trust which has given the Government the breathing room to take this sensible step to attract skilled graduates and support our universities, a powerful vector for British influence in the world.

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Jonathan Clark: Brexit. Is democracy at risk?

Jonathan Clark was a Fellow of Peterhouse; at Oxford, he was a Fellow of All Souls College; latterly he has been Visiting Professor at the Committee on Social Thought at Chicago, and Hall Distinguished Professor of British History at the University of Kansas. His latest book is a study of Thomas Paine.

Observers agree that this is the most impassioned episode in British politics for over a century. But it has been so under David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson alike. The last alone is not to blame. Why, then, is it so bitter? We ought to be able to debate whether GDP will be slightly higher or slightly lower in 15 years if we leave or if we remain in the EU without expulsions, mutual denunciations, threats, and lawfare. Other things are at stake, far beyond economists’ guesswork. At least two are at issue, for the Brexit crisis is at its heart a proxy war.

The first is democracy itself, for two conceptions of it are widely held in the UK, representative and direct. In 2019 they collide. What are they?

Representative democracy assumes that Parliament once seized sovereignty from the King, and the Commons then seized it from the Lords; or, alternatively, that if the People once had sovereignty, they surrendered it completely and for all time to members of the Commons, who, collectively, now have absolute authority. Being wise and restrained patricians, MPs rule in the national interest. This theory looks more unpersuasive the more one explores it.

Direct democracy assumes that sovereignty resides with autonomous individuals thanks to God’s gift or to Nature – thoughtful individuals who know all they need to know in order to govern, and who exercise their authority just as they please via universal suffrage. Again, this theory is not wholly plausible. Which of the two predominates is likely to depend on practice more than on theoretical argument.

Practice depends on logistics, and these continually develop. Representative democracy seemed obvious in days when communication was slow and expensive. Members of the Commons might visit their constituencies seldom. The franchise was restricted, newspapers reported little, the actions of most MPs at Westminster were seldom in the public eye. Members were unpaid, so normally had to be rich: they were seldom inclined to defer to the poor. But all that was long ago.

From the mid-1990s, and increasingly every year, the internet has transformed everything. For the first time, it is possible to conduct opinion polls in a shorter time than it takes MPs to file through the division lobbies. For the first time, I can watch my MP speak live in the Commons, or in a recording. I can monitor her every vote. I can email her almost instantaneously (I have even exchanged brief emails with one distinguished MP while he was in a debate). Thankfully, my MP is admirable, in her labours both in Parliament and in her constituency. But for voters who differ from their MPs, the potential for active involvement is far greater than ever before.

Kenneth Clarke speaks for the old school of Parliamentarians in insisting that the referendum of 2016 was merely advisory. But he is out of date. The European Union Referendum Act 2015, which made the arrangements, nowhere said that. Nor did the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. No legislation has ever provided that votes cast in general elections are merely advisory either. On the contrary, the electorate decides things.

We can only deduce the advisory status of referendums by implication, from the premise ‘Parliament is sovereign’. But no Act of Parliament can establish parliamentary sovereignty, any more than Kenneth Clarke can rise into the air by pulling on his shoelaces. Since the People elect members of the Commons directly, by binding votes, and of the Lords indirectly (via elected members of the Commons), it might plausibly be argued that the People are sovereign.

Yet representative democracy is widely championed, and here lies the second great point at issue: a culture war, over what might be called the recent hegemony of social democratic values. It was not so in 1962 when Anthony Sampson published his famous Anatomy of Britain; it shaped the subsequent understandings of ‘The Establishment’ as a closed social circle of the public school and Oxbridge educated who staffed the boardrooms, Parliament, the judiciary and the church.

But a wind of change has swept over Britain as well as over Sampson’s beloved South Africa. The public schools and Oxbridge are still there, but captured for other purposes. Rank derived from birth and class now derives from style and political correctness. The old boy networks are replaced by the luvvie networks. Sampson himself (Westminster and Christ Church) became a Social Democrat during the 1980s.

Set aside the party label; its opponents perceive a state of mind shared by larger numbers of people. They are the commentariat. They allegedly run the media, the universities, the civil service, the judiciary. They are not, indeed, socialist: that would be too uncool an ideology for the twenty-first century. But they are not democrats either, and instinctively reject the outcome of the largest democratic exercise in British history, the referendum of 2016. To them this is ‘populism’, the opposite of themselves.

In this sense, say their opponents with ever clearer definition, social democrats are ‘anywheres’ rather than ‘somewheres’: they have no particular loyalty to a country, let alone Bolsover or Sunderland. They encourage mass migration and multiculturalism. They have places in the sun. They countenance divorce, sex change, and gay marriage. They are secularists who favour religions that are loud against religious establishments. The EU suits them perfectly. Its Roman Law tradition fits their world view, since it works down from grand statements of principle; England’s common law tradition worked up, from specific concrete entitlements. In their eyes, social democrats champion correct, modern, enlightened values. These entail membership of the EU.

Against this perceived social democratic hegemony have developed two great protests: Momentum, and the Brexit movement. To simplify, Momentum wants real socialism; Brexit wants real democracy. They can only achieve either by championing an old ideal that now becomes a new one: the People are sovereign.

Both these conceptions of democracy are plausible, but flawed. They have historic force, but they are contradictory. A collision was inevitable sooner or later. What better ground on which to fight than the UK’s membership of the EU?

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James Palmer: Devolving adult education is helping to give the young the skills they need

James Palmer is the directly elected Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

With the creation of the Combined Authority in 2017 and the devolving of power, a budget for Adult Education initially seemed a surprising addition coming alongside our primary responsibilities of Transport and Housing. Unlike secondary level education or post-16 skills, the adult education budget had not been a famous topic for national discussion. However, in the short two years I have been Mayor of Peterborough and Cambridgeshire, the skills agenda has increased the pace of progress more rapidly than anyone had previously anticipated.

Being given a budget of £11.3 million, we were keen to cut the red tape attached to Adult Education as soon possible. The previously centralised direction of spending was unimaginative to say the least. Time and money were being spent on ‘leisure and pleasure’ courses such as basket weaving, bridge playing, and language teaching – prepping people for their holidays. Not only that, but these were being used largely by people already equipped with high-level qualifications; that is not the priority of a budget for Adult Education and it has taken the creation of further devolved government to recognise this and to bring immediate change. Of course, there will always be a welcome role for community learning as it does much to tackle social isolation for the elderly – and yet the balance of this with skills is something that needed immediate revision.

This September will be the first year that the Combined Authority will be delivering a revitalised budget. The last two years have been spent working with the educational providers and hearing from local businesses to ascertain the demand of skills required in our job-laden area. As a result, we are placing a far greater emphasis on those with lower level qualifications and on courses that meet the skills needs of the area. Running closely alongside our work for Adult Education has been the development of our Local Industrial Strategy in which we see education playing a key role. In pooling two separate spheres of research, we have chosen educational courses that will actually enable students to get on and grow in skills, confidence, and ability; thereby improving the spread of employment throughout the area.

Previously, the Whitehall approach placed a large onus on getting ‘bums on seats’, regardless of what course or what qualification the students were entering in on. With our new approach, we are able to ensure that this budget is benefiting those with little or no qualifications first and foremost.

This again signals the wonder of devolution. As here in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough our economic backdrop contains a mixture of agri-tech, manufacturing, and engineering companies requiring more skilled workers. Whereas in Andy Burnham’s region of Greater Manchester, the skills needed will no doubt be different from ours and in Andy Street’s West Midlands, different again. Regardless of the differences, we can now be more confident that local people relying on these services will be provided with the opportunities to get on in life, right where they are.

My driving vision is to ensure that more people across my region can benefit from the strong economic growth that is taking place across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. In focusing our budget with a localised view, areas such as Fenland are seeing record amounts of spending on the Adult Education services.

Building on our new approach to adult education, our programme to provide additional skills is being continued with the creation of the University of Peterborough – a uniquely technical and skills based university that will serve the needs of the local economy. With this skills based university, we are wanting to do something completely new. To enable this, we have been working closely with the business community of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire and the surrounding areas where the need for skills-based work is high. We carried out a survey of local businesses to help us shape the University’s curriculum and over 60 per cent of local businesses who were contacted responded, demonstrating the clear appetite and support from local business to this kind of approach to higher education.

Those that will attend Peterborough University will have an opportunity to undertake a vocational course whilst also gaining the socially developmental experience of studying at university. Many young people today are weighing up the cost benefits of a university education as the cost of tuition fees can be off-putting for many; this project can be used to encourage further education that is future focussed and vocationally driven. By tailoring the courses to the needs of the local economy, the skills demanded by local employers can be met in a self-sustaining fashion, thereby furthering the economic success of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Degree apprenticeships will be based upon training students for the needs of prominent local businesses such as agricultural technology. Resultantly, the supply demands of businesses and services in the area can be met by those local to them; as well as attracting others to enter in to work in the area.This will help our young people into well-paid secure jobs fit for the rapidly evolving 21st Century workplace. The university is on course to open in September 2022 to its first 2,000 students on the embankment site in what is planned to be an iconic building for Peterborough.

By continuing to streamline the Adult Education budget and making a success of the University of Peterborough project, I believe a strong case can be made for further devolution of Education. This could pave the way to see the overall transformation to regional Education that people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have been longing for. In order to unleash the potential of this area we will continue to focus on stream-lining Adult Education, building momentum for the inclusion of post-16 skills.

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