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Westlake Legal Group > Universities and Skills

Daniel Rossall-Valentine: Tech now underpins prosperity in every sector – so to thrive, we need more engineers

Daniel Rossall-Valentine is Head of Campaign for This is Engineering at the Royal Academy of Engineering, and Deputy Chairman of Sevenoaks Conservative Association. He writes in a personal capacity.

“It’s the same formula: it is education, infrastructure and technology —those three things”, so said Boris Johnson in June when interviewed by the Evening Standard about his agenda for government. According to Boris, those are the three principles which informed his time as Mayor of London and will be his priorities as Prime Minister.

These priorities are very welcome because they recognise the essential connections between three vital elements of wealth generation, and represent a more sophisticated view of economic growth than the one-dimensional and idealistic catchphrase of “education, education, education” which prevailed under a previous government.

The UK is involved in a long running battle to raise its productivity. We have long needed a better vision of what we need to do to boost productivity and I believe that this vision is now being developed.

Engineers and technicians must be at the heart of this new vision. Engineers are essential for innovation, they design, build and improve technology and have become central to national productivity, economic growth and living standards. Engineers are the people who turn scientific principles into practical application, social benefit and economic value. Our world is being unified in a new way; by a series of threats that know no borders. We face big challenges, including overpopulation, environmental degradation, malnutrition, biodiversity loss, cyber-terrorism and global warming, and technology is central to building solutions for each of these and making our world work better for everyone.

In truth, technology is not a sector anymore; it is now the driver of productivity and economic success (and indeed survival) for organisations in every sector. The analytical and design skills of engineers have become more and more valuable as the rate of technological change accelerates. No sector of the economy is now protected from the forces of technological change; healthcare, agriculture, retail, and education are just four examples of sectors which are currently experiencing rapid technological change; change that offers significant improvements in productivity and benefits for users.

Growing our domestic tech capacity offers great benefits to the UK. Tech firms have shown that they can scale very rapidly. The rise of “tech unicorns” (recent startups valued at over $1 billion) demonstrates the economic and social potential offered by tech. Engineering has been proven to be a very effective multiplier of economic growth. The UK should not be modest about its future in tech because we have significant advantages, including a trusted legal regime, access to capital and credit, access to support services, unparalleled access to tech customers, an educated workforce, world class universities, stable taxation and intelligent regulation.

However, the UK has one great and persisting tech weakness which threatens to impede our growth, and that is an inadequate number of engineers and technicians. The UK needs to grow its pool of engineering talent, to ensure that UK-based tech companies can remain in the UK as they scale rapidly, and to enable engineering companies to win big projects. If the UK doesn’t expand its pool of engineering talent we risk losing tech firms, tech projects and tech investment and the huge economic and social value that they bring. The proportion of jobs that require technical skill is growing and Britain should aspire to a growing share of this growing pie.

Young people are avid consumers of technology, but we need more of them to aspire to mastering the engineering that underpins the technology so that they can become developers, makers and creators of technology, rather than mere users. We also need more young people who combine engineering skills with the entrepreneurial and managerial skills that will enable them to form and scale business enterprises; so that the UK can capture an increasing share of lucrative engineering value-chains; and provide the GDP and employment that flow from end-to-end technology development. Increasingly people who are not tech-savvy are at risk of being automated out of a job, so the need for upskilling the UK in technical skills is pressing.

This technical skills shortage has long been recognised and a multitude of projects have been started to encourage young people to consider engineering. And yet despite the number of initiatives, the shortfall of talent has not only persisted but seems to have grown larger over the last decade. We also need to diversify our talent pool and ensure we are attracting young people from all backgrounds; because only a diverse profession guarantees the diversity of ideas that technical fields rely on.

The UK has made good progress in raising the profile of engineering in the last few years. The Industrial Strategy and Grand Challenges of 2017 were very welcome developments at putting technology centre-stage. The Year Of Engineering 2018 led to a very significant change in the perception of engineering amongst school pupils. This year-long Government campaign also encouraged greater collaboration between the many professional engineering institutions that make up the UK’s complex engineering landscape. We can be optimistic that the UK has got into the good habit of paying far more recognition to the engineers and entrepreneurs who enable, create and democratise the technology which improves lives, saves time and generates wealth.

Too often we allow our natural British reserve about talking about wealth to prevent us talking about wealth creation. Social benefit and commercial success are too often portrayed as trade-offs, when they are mutually reinforcing; the best technology delivers for investors as well as society-at-large. Technological success is a stool with three legs; technical progress, commercial success and social benefit. Technology is more than technology: technology is inherently social, and inherently financial, and we need more technologists who look at the full picture rather than the purely technical aspects of technology. Without profit, technology is the greatest creator of loss and debt known to mankind, and without social benefit technology can be a force of social division, rather than a democratising force.

To maximise the benefits of technology we need to close the technology skills gap, and this requires action by many players. We cannot rely on Government alone to solve this persistent problem. We know that too few young people are studying engineering related degrees and apprenticeships. One major factor is the image of engineering. Unfortunately, a number of unappealing stereotypes have become attached to the profession of engineering. Many young people assume that engineering involves hard, manual work, and male-dominated workplaces. Too many young people also believe that engineering is a narrow specialism that offers only a limited range of job opportunities. The problem is particularly acute with female students. Inspiring more girls to pursue STEM subjects and careers will not only help us to address the skills gap in science and technology, but it will also help us to create a more diverse workforce that truly represents the world we live in.

The UK has a great tradition of innovation and enterprise but only by unlocking the interest of our young people by presenting a positive vision of business enterprise and technology can we continue to succeed in this increasingly competitive field. One recent example of success is the This is Engineering campaign which was developed by a number of the UK’s leading technology companies and launched in January 2018. The campaign presents young people with positive, modern, authentic images of careers in technology and engineering, through the medium of short films which are available on many social media platforms. The films also highlight the societal benefits that new technology delivers, the team-work that technology and engineering projects rely on, and the creativity that is required at every stage in the design and build process.

By helping to promote careers in technology and engineering we can ensure that more and more young people see technology not just as a range of products to be consumed but also as a range of careers to be considered.

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

Iain Mansfield: Brexit by October 31. Stop using the Left’s language. And stand for skilled workers. Essentials for our next Prime Minister

Iain Mansfield is a former senior civil servant, winner of the Institute of Economic Affairs Brexit prize and a Conservative councillor candidate. He writes in a personal capacity.

Our next Prime Minister will take office at the most challenging time since the 1970s. Not only is there Brexit – an issue of fundamental national importance, that has destroyed the last two Prime Ministers and poses an existential challenge to the future of the Conservative Party – but the old political assumptions are changing. Across the West, traditional voter coalitions are shifting, as citizens reject centrist compromises. Flatlining productivity, unaffordable houses and millions of voters feeling abandoned, either culturally or economically, are just some of the challenges they will face.

Many of those who voted for David Cameron in 2010 are lost to the party, alienated by Brexit. In Britain today, age and education level are better predictors of a person’s vote than class. To win a general election, our next Prime Minister must forge a new coalition of voters that unites the traditional Tory shires with the left-behind Leave voters in the Midlands and North. Even more importantly, they must deliver authentic right-wing policies that address the causes of ordinary working people’s dissatisfaction. People want change and, if the Conservative Party does not deliver it, they are likely to seek answers in the flawed blandishments of Jeremy Corbyn’s socialism.

In that context, there are three essentials that our next Prime Minister must prioritise for the good of the people, the nation and the party:

  • Leave the EU by 31 October, on WTO terms if needed.
  • Openly champion conservative values rather than speaking the language of the left.
  • Reposition the party as the natural home of the skilled working and lower middle classes.

Leave the EU by 31 October, on WTO terms if needed

Not only is delivering on the outcome of the referendum a democratic imperative, it is vital for the continued existence of the party. Recent polling shows that, if we have not left the EU, the Conservatives are likely to suffer devastating losses in a general election; these figures could be even worse if large numbers of members, councillors or even entire associations defect to the Brexit Party. Many members have held on over the last few months purely out of hope that the next Prime Minister would deliver where May failed: another betrayal in October would see these members permanently lost.

Leaving with a deal is preferable, if some changes to the backstop can be agreed and Parliament will pass it. If not, as I have argued previously on this site, we have nothing to fear from No Deal. Preparations for such should be put into top gear on the first day in office. The Prime Minister must make clear that they will under no circumstances ask for an extension; and that they are, if needed, prepared to systematically veto any measure put forward by the EU on regular business if the UK is for some reason kept in. While every effort should be made to secure a deal, if it cannot be reached, Parliament must be faced with the simple choice of permitting a WTO exit or voting no confidence in the Prime Minister – a gamble, admittedly, but one that is preferable to another disastrous extension.

Openly champion conservative values rather than speaking the language of the left

In recent years too many Conservative politicians have allowed our opponents to define the playing field. We cannot beat the socialists by adopting the language and assumptions of socialism. Our next Prime Minister must stop feeding the narrative of identity, grievance and division, with its assumption that an individual’s potential is defined by their characteristics, that so-called ‘burning injustices’ are solely the responsibility of the state to address, and that the government always no best.

Changing the narrative will be a long endeavour. The systematic appointment of those with conservative values into key ministerially appointed positions; an authentically right-wing approach to policy making in Whitehall; and the withdrawal of state funding from the network of organisations that maintain the left’s grip on the policy narrative are essential. But over and above this, the Prime Minister must be willing to personally stand up and champion individual liberties and freedoms; to condemn progressive authoritarianism and to be visibly proud of Britain, our culture and the rich global heritage of our citizens.

Reposition the party as the natural home of the skilled working and lower middle classes

Young, metropolitan graduates may once have been natural Conservatives, but no longer. There is little hope of reversing this in the immediate aftermath of Brexit. Instead of squandering our effort here, our new Prime Minister should instead make the party the natural home of the skilled working and lower middle classes, particularly in the midlands and north.

Such voters have a natural affinity to the traditional conservative values of low tax and individual liberty, but also greatly value and rely day-to-day onn strong public services. This places the Conservatives in a difficult position after a decade of austerity: Labour made hay campaigning on cuts to police numbers and falls in per pupil spending in 2017. But how to fund significant increases in core services without raising taxes or alienating core Conservative voters, such as via the disastrous proposals on social care in the 2017 manifesto?

To find the funding the next Prime Minister must be bold enough to slay the progressive sacred cows that soak up billions annually in public funding. Three immediately spring to mind:

With the additional £15 billion plus a year, the Prime Minister could at a stroke increase police funding by 25 per cent (£3 billion), boost school funding per pupil by 20 per cent (£8 billion) and increase spending on social care by 20 per cent (£4 billion). And then split the proceeds of further growth between public services and tax cuts.

As well as this, we should champion the interests of the high street, enterprise and small businesses and oppose crony corporatism. Multinational companies that make use of aggressive tax avoidance, abuse their market position or actively work against UK sovereignty should not enjoy government grants, procurement or time in No. 10. Fundamentally, our next Prime Minister should spend more time listening to the Federation of Small Businesses and less time listening to the CBI.

Conclusion

As members, we have two candidates set before us. Both are able politicians and tested leaders who represent the best the Parliamentary party has to offer. As we assess who should be not just our next leader, but our Prime Minister, we should do so against their ability to deliver these vital elements.

Both have committed to delivering Brexit by October 31 – but which one has the ability, the genuine will and the courage to do so by any means necessary? Both are true-blue Conservatives – but which one will truly champion our values, taking the battle to our adversaries with the eloquence and conviction of a Thatcher or a Churchill? Both recognise the importance of reaching out to new voters – but which one can devise and push through the policies needed to unite the Tory shires with the Leave voters of the north? Consider carefully and cast your vote.

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 

Alastair Thompson: The Augar Report’s proposals for student loan reform are a big step backwards

Alastair Thompson is reading Politics and Economics at Bath University.

The Government seems to have managed to encounter a new paradox.

Amongst a plethora of reforms proposed for university funding, the Augar Report has suggested that there should be a cut in tuition fees from £9,250 to £7,500; that the rate of interest applied to tuition fees should be capped from a maximum of RPI +3 per cent to simply RPI; and that tuition fee repayments, which should now last for 40 years instead of 30, should begin at £23,000 rather than the current level of £25,000.

These proposals, to many, would sound good at first. Cheaper tuition has been heralded by the left and many student bodies such as the NUS as a need for the future, and university interest rates appear bizarrely high.

Yet these proposals will undeniably harm poorer individuals and do absolutely nothing to change the current stresses encountered by university students.

The effect of the cut in tuition fees is rather negligible (the average maintenance loan is roughly £7,200). Therefore the yearly reduction in the overall level of debt added through fees and the maintenance loan is only 11 per cent.

The rather more substantial effect comes through the reduction in interest rates. Under the current system an individual who had taken the average maintenance loan and earned a pre-tax income of £53,600, which would place the earner into the richest ten per cent, would pay £77,220 across the 30 years and finally have their debt wiped at the colossal figure of £91,500.

In the proposed new system, that very same individual would pay back just under £59,000 over 29 years, having paid off their entire debt.

If the only effect of the proposed reforms was to end the way in which higher earners still face a seemingly eternal ‘debt’, then I suppose I might have been praising this as some way forward. Yet these reforms could strangle those who may already be struggling. In many ways the struggles associated with repaying student finance are caused by the fact it is treated as a ‘debt’ rather than the tax that it really is.

The repayments of student finance are a tax. The evidence that it is implemented directly to work as a tax is overwhelming. Say two individuals graduate with a debt of £52,000. One individual earns £27,500 for 30 years straight, and the other earns £32,600. Under the current system who has the most ‘debt’ wiped off at the end?

The one who earned £32,600 each year, as they are charged a higher level of interest to assure that they remain in a form of ‘debt’, the reality is to assure they keep paying a tax.

It seems fair that a debate should be had on the morality of applying a system which keeps people in an almost permanent debt. The current system of student finance means that to clear an individual’s debt (assuming they take the average maintenance loan and three years of university education) the required pre-tax income to wipe an individual’s debt is £66,000. To have £66,000 of pre-tax income would, according to the ONS in 2017, place an individual narrowly into the richest six per cent of earners.

The proposed changes, however, would only lower this to £43,916, which in the same year would be equivalent to those who scrape their way into the richest 15 per cent of earners. Theses are the individuals who would see no benefit from paying off their ‘debt’ as they reach this point as soon as their debts are about to be wiped clear.

The only individuals to benefit from the reformed proposals are those with higher incomes which would be able to take advantage of not paying the nine per cent tax applied to them for repaying the ‘debt’. Those who just scrape their way into the richest ten per cent of earners within 2017 would save £18,580 over their lifetime.

Yet individuals who never paid off their debt, the majority, would pay further twice over, firstly through the extra maximum of £180 directly per year from nine per cent of income between £23,000 and £25,000 now being taxed, and secondly from the additional ten years of student debt repayments.

When these proposals are assessed by the Government, and potentially the future Prime Minister, it could be a relatively insignificant moment in our party’s history. Yet alternatively it could be a defining moment. The chance for us to see what kind of Conservative Party we will be. I believe in low taxes, yet this proposal is in reality a tax rise for the majority of individuals.

Does taxing those with a pre-tax income of £32,600 an additional £14,000 over their lifetime sound like the kind of Conservative Party we should be in the future? To me we should be helping these people own their homes, potentially invest in businesses to make their local area thrive, and help them keep their money to assure economic security.

I don’t believe we should be overloading people with a tax into their sixties and taking thousands more of their income away from them. This is why I hope the next Conservative Party leader will toss out these regressive suggestions from the Augar Report.

If the Government wishes to help students it should look elsewhere, such as reforms to maintenance loans to support vulnerable students and those without family support. They might also consider shifting student loan repayments from being based on pre-tax to post-tax income, to help those struggling to make ends meet after graduation.

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

Nick Hillman: Don’t be swayed by the outrage. Treating EU students like other non-British students makes sense.

Nick Hillman is the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, and is a former Special Adviser to David Willetts, then Minister for Universities and Science. This piece is written in a personal capacity.

The media is full of stories saying that the Government will soon confirm EU students in England are to be treated like other foreign students after Brexit. This means the former will have to pay full international fees, not the lower home fees. Plus, they will no longer have access to subsidised tuition fee loans. That is a real double whammy.

Twitter is suitably outraged. The decision will hit our universities, impoverishing them financially and intellectually, and is at one with the Government’s hostile attitude towards students from other countries. Or so it is claimed.

In fact, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

International students, whether they hail from another EU country or from a non-EU country undoubtedly benefit the UK. Typically, they come here, spend lots of money and then go home again, generally with warm thoughts about their host nation. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), for which I work, has shown just one cohort of international students bringing net benefits of over £20 billion. Every constituency gains.

I have long argued that the Government’s approach to international students is their worst higher education policy. I argued against it inside Whitehall, as Special Adviser to David Willetts during the Coalition. I have argued against it outside Whitehall, too. Since I became Director of HEPI in 2014, our three biggest reports have been on the benefits that international students bring to the UK.

But, despite the real problems with the Government’s general approach to international students, the idea that EU students should come to be treated like other non-British students makes sense.

First, there is the moral case.

While we are in the European Union, there is a defensible logic in having more generous rules for students from fellow EU states. The arrangements are all part of the reciprocity that comes from being in the club. If we are not in the EU, there is no easy way to defend charging richer Germans much less to study here than poorer Indians.

European nations are predominantly white and non-EU international students typically come from countries where white people tend to be in a minority. So maintaining the current rules would be exceptionally hard to defend for other reasons too. (Some people claim it would be illegal as well, but the specifics are murky so lawyers may need to clarify that in due course.)

Secondly, there is the economic case.

Student loans have a cost to British taxpayers because the repayment terms mean much of the money is never repaid. There is a strong case for this for home students. Their families are likely to be contributing to the Exchequer in other ways and they are likely to end up as UK taxpayers themselves. (US states charge less to in-state students for the same reasons.) There is also a logic to subsidising EU students while we remain a member state. But the logic doesn’t so easily apply to residents of anywhere beyond the UK after Brexit.

Remember, the Office for National Statistics are about to reclassify student loan write-off costs as current public spending (rather than a cost that falls far in the future). So the Treasury has to decide whether continuing to subsidise students from other EU countries to study here is a more urgent priority than other public spending needs. Cutting A&E waiting lists, raising school funding, spending more on research or future tax cuts may seem more palatable.

This all brings us, as with so much else, to Margaret Thatcher. When she was a newly-installed Prime Minister, her Government abolished the subsidy that once existed for students coming to study in the UK from outside Europe. Overnight, they became liable for much higher fees.

The higher education sector was united in its outrage. Labour’s Education spokesman, Neil Kinnock, told the House of Commons:

“It is apparent that the policy has not a single friend. We hear nothing but continual criticisms—some extremely bitter and loud—of the Government’s policy from the Royal Commonwealth Society and the British Council to the Association of Navigation Schools, from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the United Kingdom Universities and the Committee of Directors of Polytechnics to every university, polytechnic and college of higher or further education, every education trade union and every students’ union. Disagreement with the Government’s policy is not limited to those sources. We have also heard criticisms from Conservative students, just as we have heard them, in a courageous and direct form, from Conservative Back Benchers.”

They were all wrong. We can date the UK’s success in attracting people from other countries to study here from that decision. Once universities could charge international students the full economic costs of their education and more, there was an incentive to recruit them. The number of students from other countries started rising fast because, in the words of Derek Bok (a former President of Harvard), universities resemble exiled European royalty and compulsive gamblers in their insatiable appetite for money.

We have calculated that international students who come to the UK now cross-subsidise research by £8,000 each. Without this funding, our higher education sector would be poorer, less good and lower down the global league tables.

I am not saying Brexit is bound to lead to a big growth in EU student arrivals. History doesn’t always repeat itself. The impending changes to the student finance rules for EU students really could put people off coming here to study, even though our universities boast so many strengths and teach in English. Many European countries have fantastic universities of their own and, often, they are free to attend. Research we commissioned concluded Brexit could mean a decline in students from other EU countries of over 50 per cent.

But I am worried that people are opposing the rumoured change to funding for EU students without any sufficiently strong arguments to win the debate. That would be counter-productive because it deflects from the more important task of ensuring the whole post-Brexit migration system makes sense.

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Chris Skidmore: Military personnel, veterans and their families deserve better access to Higher Education

Chris Skidmore is Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, and MP for Kingswood.

Since being appointed Universities Minister last December, I have sought to focus attention on which groups in society are not getting the chance to benefit from Higher Education, demonstrating the clear inequalities that still exist and the barriers that certain students face in applying or considering university.

In defining disadvantage, much still centres around income and family background. The establishment of the Office for Students and the Office for Fair Access is providing a renewed focus on improving access and participation at university: registered institutions now need to establish access and participation plans, with conditions placed upon certain universities to improve their access measures. Universities are spending around £860 million on ensuring that more disadvantaged students can access Higher Education, but there is still much more that can be done.

Last month, I set out my own views how we can go even further. In a speech at Nottingham Trent University, I highlighted the work we intend to take forward to spread best practice in the sector, through the creation of the Evidence and Impact Exchange, to eradicate unacceptable inequalities. In addition, we need to start moving from just thinking about getting students to go to university, but to take a whole systems approach that links the student experience, including improving student mental health and student accommodation, to the debate on access and participation. By refocusing our efforts on a ‘student transition, experience and progress’ journey- what I termed a ‘STEP change’ in a speech at the Royal Institution last month – we can ensure that we extend our efforts to ensuring disadvantaged students are given the relevant support throughout their university career.

This approach recognises that there are many groups of students who need extra support and additional interventions if we are to succeed in giving them the chance enjoyed by most. I’ve focused attention on what universities can do to improve the access and experience of disabled students, care leavers and young carers. We have also taken forward measures as a government in the past few months, including raising the Disabled Student Allowance for postgraduate students from £10,500 to £20,000, while Nadhim Zahawi, the Children’s Minister, and I also published a set of ‘Care Leaver Principles’ which provides universities with a template for improving access for care leavers (currently, just six per cent reach Higher Education).

When it comes to going to university, the children of forces families can also face more barriers than most. Not only are young people from military service families less likely to embark on Higher Education than those from civilian backgrounds. Once there, the stresses and strains of having one or more parents in the military can bring about poor mental health and wellbeing, as well as have a detrimental effect on academic performance and overall student experience.

I want to see universities thinking about what they could do to support military personnel and veterans themselves. Serving personnel require a high degree of flexibility and portability in their learning, so they can stop and start a course if deployment calls, or perhaps even resume their studies at another institution should a future posting take them to a different part of the country.

For ex-service people, Higher Education can be the gateway to a new career. Yet the costs of tuition can be off-putting for those already having to readjust to civilian life. And those without prior qualifications may also struggle to find providers, which recognise the experiences and skills gained while in service.

Yesterday I announced that Department for Education is pledging £5 million in continued funding for two separate armed forces projects. The first of these projects, the Service Leavers Scheme, pays the tuition fees for ex-service people who have not completed a Higher Education course before. And the second project, the Armed Forces Bereavement Scheme, provides university scholarships for the children of military personnel killed in duty. Support such as this can go a long way to giving people the head start in life they deserve.

But I also want to do more to ensure that universities reflect upon their civic role in their communities, and to support the armed forces, veterans and their families. The Armed Forces Covenant exists specifically to support serving personnel, service leavers, veterans and their families and remove barriers faced in accessing public services, including education.

Yet, to date, only 57 out of 136 universities have become signatories to the Covenant, including just three from the Russell Group of universities.

Clearly, the Higher Education sector can do more support those who have given the most to our country.

That’s why yesterday I have written a joint letter with my colleague Tobias Ellwood, Minister for Defence People and Veterans, to encourage universities to sign up to the Armed Forces Covenant and establish armed forces champions within each institution to better support military personnel and their families.

It’s clear that some universities are already leading the way. Providers like the University of Winchester, which has long been leading by example in this area through its dedicated action and outreach work among the armed forces community, or the University of Central Lancashire which has honoured its commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant through the College for Military Veterans and Emergency Services (CMVES). This has achieved national acclaim for helping service members resettle, whilst providing them with specialist advice on course funding, suitable training and civilian careers.

I want this to be just the beginning and, with more universities pledging to support military personnel and their families in the future, we can together create a force for good and honour those who have sacrificed so much.

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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.

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Will Tanner and Guy Miscampbell: A graduate tax cut would put money back in the pockets of young people

Will Tanner is Director of Onward and Guy Miscampbell is Senior Research Fellow at Onward.

It was a false promise but a powerful one. At the 2017 election, Jeremy Corbyn won over a generation of younger voters partly by promising to cancel their student loans. The result was a 35 point lead for Labour amongst 18-24 year olds and a 29 point lead amongst 25-34s. It was the Conservatives worst result amongst younger voters in decades.

The Government’s response to this “youthquake” – an independent review of post-18 education funding, led by Philip Augur – will report next month. But if rumours of its recommendations are true, it will do little to win over a generation of young people who believe that the system is stacked against them. The idea floated in several newspapers of a simple cut in tuition fees to £6,500 is unlikely to make much difference – benefiting only future students and still leaving graduates with high repayment costs as they save for a home, while reducing funding for Britain’s best universities.

The reality is young people are right to think the higher education system doesn’t work for them. Today’s students face some of the highest marginal tax rates in Britain when repayment rates are taken into account. We abolished tax rates of over 50 per cent for people earning over £150,000, but higher rate graduates pay 51 per cent, while those earning above £25,000 facing marginal tax rates of 41 per cent. It is no wonder younger generations are finding it harder to save to get onto the property ladder – leaving them with less wealth and lower rates of property ownership than previous generations, as well as worse pensions.

The standard response to that graduates earn more so it is fair they pay back at a significant rate. But this is only partially true, as Onward’s research shows today. It is true many courses deliver a major earnings premium: a male graduate from LSE can expect to earn, on average £63,220 five years after graduating. But many courses deliver no such premium. In fact, in 40 per cent of graduates studied subjects where their median earnings were so low that after five years they would not reach the £25,000 threshold where they start paying back their loans.

A decade after graduation, one in ten graduates will be earning less than £25,000, according to their course earnings potential, and the most popular subject group, Creative Arts, will deliver an average salary of just £23,200 for the 125,000 students currently studying it. The net result of these weak earnings is that up to a quarter of students are currently studying courses that are not worthwhile for the taxpayer, and a fifth will be no better off than if they had chosen a non-university route, such as an apprenticeship.

For two decades, politicians have been trying to get as many young people to go to university as possible, because they believed that a degree would always deliver higher wages. This was a false promise, with significant implications for the taxpayer. Low graduate wages mean that 83 per cent of student loans will never be paid off in full, leaving a £28 billion hit to the deficit when they are written off in 30 years’ time.

The answer, clearly, is not just to abolish or reduce tuition fees, both of which would only help those who graduate in the future, and could reduce university places as seen in Scotland. Nor is it to introduce a straight graduate tax, which would leave most people paying roughly the same. A better answer, as set out in our report, would be to introduce a graduate tax cut to put money back in the pockets of young people, paid for by reducing the number of wasteful courses that harm graduates’ prospects and cost taxpayers billions.

A graduate “tax cashback” of 50 pence in every pound of loan repayments would halve the monthly repayments of around 2 million graduates currently paying back on their loans. Unlike the alternatives, it would benefit all graduates repaying their loans, now and in the future, and put money help them save for a deposit or contribute to their pension. As we show, the costs could be offset by encouraging a tenth of students away from low-value university and towards higher-value technical education, which have higher earnings despite years of underinvestment.

If the Conservatives are to become a serious force amongst younger voters again, as they were during the 1980s and early 1990s, they must embrace reforms that side with young consumers and young taxpayers – ensuring students are not being ripped off and helping graduates to keep more of their earnings. A tax cut and a crackdown on low value courses would be a good start.

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Tim Dawson: The BBC Murders. How the corporation used anti-Brexit poison to kill Poirot.

Tim Dawson is a writer. He created and wrote three series of the hit BBC sitcom Coming of Age, and has contributed to several other comedy programmes on the BBC and elsewhere.

The BBC has done it again. As the nation seeks a few days respite from division and argument, the BBC has launched their Yuletide adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders. Sadly, it exhibits much of what is wrong with both the Corporation and our wider cultural discourse.

Naturally, the story has been reimagined as an anti-Brexit parable. Everything that makes Christie entertaining – the wit, the twinkle, the twee contemporaneous details – have been shorn away. The picture has been washed out: we have been treated to a portrait of a 1930s Britain overrun by fascism. (In reality, unlike on the continent, fascism gained little foothold in Britain; and was more likely to be mocked – with its Spode-like popinjays in their preposterous uniforms – than admired).

Christie herself was of course a Conservative, of the even-tempered Burkean variety. So it’s hard to believe she’d have sympathised with scriptwriter Sarah Phelps’ own strident, Junckerphile left-wing politics. To an BBC executive, this new mini-series’ conspicuous rejection of the source material may confer ‘freshness’: to many others, it will seem disrespectful. Packaging in an anti-Brexit crusade – particularly now – seems tin-eared and crass.

There is an assumption amongst the high priests of the corporation that another sermon on the evils of Brexit/Conservatism/‘Fatcha’ (delete as applicable) is welcome. Yet the relationship between the BBC and its audience is growing ever more fractious. Perhaps the way in which the BBC is funded is fuelling the acrimony – we are supposedly a liberal democracy, but we are forced to pay a regressive tax to maintain a state broadcaster.

More likely, it is the nature of the broadcasting we are compelled to pay for. The corporation has never been more political. From its Christmas blockbuster drama to its woefully underperforming comedy output, to its obsession with diversity quotas – the corporation’s left-wing, metropolitan agenda is at the heart of everything it does. And viewers are switching off in droves.

This is part of a wider cultural trend. Our universities – once world-leading beacons of critical thought – have been reformed by thousands of low-grade academics into left-wing madrassas. On social media, militant ‘campaigners’ hunt down any defiance of the New Orthodoxy, and organise punishment pile-ons. It is ironic that, 50 years after the abnegation of the Lord Chamberlain’s role in censoring live theatre, actors and academics, students and socialists, find themselves at the forefront of a new movement to curtail free thought and expression.

State industry quickly begins to operate in the interests of the producer rather than the consumer. Both the BBC and our higher education sector now reflect this universal rule. Some University Vice-Chancellors are earning three or four times the Prime Minister’s salary. An Executive Producer may expect to earn £200-250,000 a year. Meanwhile, graduates are leaving inauspicious institutions with valueless degrees; and the BBC’s Christmas viewing figures have been so poor that, even in the upper echelons of Broadcasting House – usually impervious to anything so vulgar as public opinion – alarms bells will be ringing.

Conservatives are squeamish about a culture war. But the hard left is waging one, and our only choice is whether to cede more territory or enter the fray. Achieving a cultural rebalance will mean tackling the corporation and higher education simultaneously.

The truth is that we have far too many universities, offering far too many degrees which will be of little value to an employer. Attempting to corral 50 per cent of school-leavers into university has been a mistake; unsuitable for many, and creating a bloated and unwieldy sector which is not delivering to the needs of either students, companies or wider society.

Reform should pivot around marketisation. Universities should be forced to publish details of what graduates from each of their courses can expect to earn and the chances of finding gainful employment in the months after they’ve left. We should encourage sponsorship of individual students by potential employers. Such institutions as the University of Buckingham – a successful private university which offers many undergraduate degrees in two years instead of three – should be learned from, and public universities incentivised to follow their example.

The BBC must also drag itself into the modern world. That doesn’t mean employees wandering around in LGBT+ ally badges (how appallingly patronising), but the organisation engaging with the reality of its position. As Anthony Jay (producer, Thatcherite and co-writer of Yes, Minister) noted in his 2008 Centre for Policy Studies report How to Save the BBC, a corporation run by a liberal elite for a liberal elite will lose the faith of those who pay for it.

He suggested that ‘quality’ should be at the heart of the BBC’s output – and, since quality can only be measured by viewing figures, this meant dropping the left-wing cant and catering to popular tastes. He also proposed that the license fee should be reduced, and funnelled into a slimmed-down range of channels. We could go further – switching to a subscription model which would allow the BBC to continue to pursue its political agenda unfettered, as it would only be beholden to those who choose to pay for it. Ultimately, the corporation can only expect to sit at the heart of our cultural life if it is aware of its audience. That means bringing salaries under control; abandoning the relentless identity politics; and creating programmes which reflect, rather than lecture, the nation.

Entering the cultural melee on behalf of ordinary voters represents an obvious opportunity for Conservatives. The luvvies may not appreciate it; but taxpayers will. It’s as easy as ABC.

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