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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Further Education"

June 18. Decision time for undergraduates – and the fate of universities

With the news dominated by statues, Primark’s reopening and the introduction of face-mask rules, something rather big has slipped under the radar. On June 18 – this Thursday – teenagers around the country will have to decide whether they want to accept their university places through the UCAS admissions service.

Most years, this is a fairly straightforward process. But the Coronavirus crisis has made undergraduate courses much less appealing, as a result of measures designed to slow the virus.

Some of these changes include “virtual freshers’ weeks”, “bubbles” of students who will live and study with the people on the same course and online lectures for the 2020-21. There are even reports of UK language students preparing for a “virtual year abroad”. At the same time, students aren’t entitled to refunds or compensation for their (typically £9,000 per year) degrees being severely disrupted.

Foreign students have made no secret of their unhappiness with the new measures. In a QS report, 53 per cent (out of 30,000) said they would defer going to university for a year – up from 46 per cent in April and 40 per cent said they would not be interested at all if courses move online. Seventy-seven per cent wanted a discount.

All of this will desperately concern institutions – not least because of the British reliance (or overreliance) on foreign students. Just one third of East Asian students dropping out, for instance, means a loss of approximately £463 million. Hence why Jo Johnson, the former universities minister, has suggested doubling the post-study work visa from two to four years – as an incentive for coming to the UK.

What’s received far less attention is how many British students will accept places on Thursday – and the implications if there are mass deferrals or drop outs. While no one can know for certain what the final figures will be, the University and College Union, London Economics, has estimated that the pandemic had reduced the likelihood of attendance by approximately 17 per cent. This would mean a £150 million loss of income for institutions.

ConservativeHome understands that Department of Education data from UCAS and the Student Loans Company suggests deferrals will be similar to previous years, so there may be nothing to worry about. Perhaps young people are hopeful that the measures will only be temporary. Alternatively, they’re stuck for options as to what to do otherwise. With companies furloughing and letting go of their staff, it’s not as if there are jobs aplenty for this generation.

But it is worth mulling over what would happen if we see a big fall in numbers. On a societal level, it could escalate the tensions we’ve seen in recent weeks, particularly when combined with mass unemployment, curbs on socialising and travelling, as well as a housing crisis. 

It could further entrench inequalities in the system, with teenagers who have to pay their way through university (through furloughed jobs, such as bar work) now unable to go. Russell Group Universities, which have multiple applicants for one place, will do better than their counterparts.

The financial damage for institutions will be sizeable, with them having already called for a multi-billion pound Government bailout – which was refused. Speaking about the decision, Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said the Government had “already seen, over the last few months, courses being delivered online and virtually to an amazing degree of quality”. 

These words encapsulate a major problem for universities; by moving online so readily, they seem to be justifying their own demise. If it is possible to get First Class Honours over Zoom at one’s parents’ house, after all, why would students spend thousands on campus accommodation, and the rest. It will mostly serve to open the market up to other competitors; anyone who can digitalise educational content in a compelling way (and the industry already has some big players).

Ultimately, it has been known for years that universities have been churning out huge numbers of “low-value degrees”, which do little to promote the life outcomes of young people, or give back to the taxpayer (who often has to pick up the bill). There has been no serious political engagement with the problem, and a real neglect of technical education – which one suspects the public has much more interest in paying for, such is the returns it can bring.

This crisis, though we wish it could have been avoided – is a big wake-up call to these institutions that business cannot continue as normal. As Neil O’Brien, our columnist put it, “universities should reform themselves. Or have reform forced on them.” If there are big drop outs on Thursday, it will – at least – be the incentive they need.

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

Unity Howard: Fixing educational inequalities must be top of the Government’s agenda as it reopens schools

Unity Howard is Director of the New Schools Network.

With the Prime Minister signalling there will be news this week on the plan to re-open schools, this topic has very much become a lynchpin for the post-Coronavirus recovery.

On an almost daily basis journalists question politicians, medical officers and scientific experts on when schools will re-open in England.

But for those in education, ‘when’ is less of an issue than ‘how’ and, more controversially, ‘why’.

Today, these debates feel incredibly important.

But when it comes to the next decade, the reality is they are not.

The last general election focused on inequality of opportunity, the disadvantage gap, lack of consistency of ambition and a levelling up of opportunity across the country.

These issues are more important today as the impact of Coronavirus takes hold. We cannot take our foot off the pedal in driving this forward.

The Department for Education is grappling with the practical solutions posed by re-opening. Which year groups to bring back first; how to manage with continuing staff absences; what social distancing measures might be necessary.

Coffee shops, B&Q and (thank God) Greggs, are testing measures like this. But while the majority of businesses can operate with some social distancing, this is not the case in schools.

You cannot mandate teachers to keep children apart, ensuring a two metre distance in the classroom (unless we move to tiny numbers), corridor (unless we rebuild most of our schools), or sandbox (just impossible).

There is also a growing debate about the ‘why’, as policy wonks busy themselves with re-imagining education.

What is the role of external assessment or Ofsted? Should schools instil a love of learning, or just provide childcare so that parents can get back to work?

This can be intellectually stimulating, but asking ‘when’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ obscures more important questions about the long-term impact of Coronavirus and the risk of a lost generation of pupils.

There have been some exceptions – in the last few days, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman flagged that the attainment gap is only going to widen the longer schools stay closed, with the most deprived children facing greater challenges to their continued education.

The Education Endowment Foundation has warned even more starkly that progress made over the last decade to narrow the attainment gap by around 10 per cent could well be reversed by school closures, and that the annual loss of learning over the summer holidays will become cavernous for some communities.

So we should park the wearisome debates we are all used to in education. The concept of the school year running from September to July; minimum class sizes; set year groups and school terms; and fixed assessment points.

This is pre- not post-Coronavirus language; it’s old money not new.

In the wake of this crisis, schools have come up with some brilliantly innovative solutions to these challenges.

Take King’s Leadership Academy Warrington, where pupils are doing a full complement of lessons each day online with attendance that is higher than most schools’ dreams.

Or Oak National Academy – an online school that has been set up virtually overnight, and has taught over two million lessons in just one week.

These achievements deserve considerable praise. They were unimaginable just a few weeks’ ago.

But if we keep obsessing over when and how to open schools, understanding and improving the impact of initiatives like these won’t happen at the rate they need to.

This is not a theoretical debate about the purpose of education. In five years’ time, we won’t be measuring the process or the timing, or the idea of schooling.

With that in mind, there are three guiding principles that Government must keep its sights firmly fixed upon:

  • Achievement: Not necessarily measured by exam grades, but by children leaving school to move onto further education, high quality apprenticeships or fulfilling employment
  • Security: We need to ensure our young people can actively engage in their education, in a safe environment which prioritises their physical and emotional wellbeing
  • Equality: A child’s future should never be decided by their background – whether they come from an urban tower block or an isolated coastal town, equal life chances should be at the heart of any education strategy

All of these are exponentially more challenging to deliver in the circumstances we now face. But they should matter.

That might mean things that are hard to stomach, like postponing schools opening except for the educationally and socially disadvantaged, and vulnerable pupils, until next academic year.

Whenever the country decides to re-open schools, and however it is done, is less important than we might think from reading the news every day.

What we should care about is the societal and economic impact of every decision being taken right now.

Overcoming inequalities for this generation must be our number one focus.

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

Ben Bradley: With a focus on further education and apprenticeships, the economy can bounce back

Ben Bradley is the MP for Mansfield.

Coronavirus will inevitably continue to present a huge challenge to our economy even when we begin to get Britain moving again.  It will be a slow process, with a steady lifting of restrictions over a long period and social distancing staying with us for some time to come. But as we look at how to rebuild and get back to sustainable growth, and an economy that’s strong enough to support the public services we need, we need to take some transformational steps on skills, adult learning, and retraining.

Nobody doubts that our jobs market is going to look quite different when this is over. Huge numbers of people are likely to be left without employment with some sectors struggling whilst others boom. Getting people back to work will, of course, be helped by businesses reopening, but many will be picking up the pieces and not able to employ as many people as before. Tens of thousands will need to look at new roles and careers and each of them will need support through retraining and adult learning, which the government should direct at the sectors most in need.

Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, has quite rightly put Further Education (FE) and skills high on his agenda for the future, and the government has always prioritised adult learning, but the National Retraining Scheme must now become relentlessly focused on outcomes. The Government must involve training providers directly, including our colleges, ensure the creation of new courses in those businesses sectors that are booming or likely to grow quickest in the aftermath, and ensure that these courses are free of charge to anyone who lost their job. We can take the new online Skills Platform launched this week and deliver courses face to face too, and we could expand that further still.

As recommended in the Augar Review, every adult should be given the entitlement to a level three qualification – an A-Level equivalent.  Not all of these are academic; there are a range of technical and vocational courses too, but enabling our workforce to become more qualified and flexible and giving many adults the opportunity of learning or training to a higher level and possibly in new areas will be of huge benefit to them, the economy and wider society.

If in three to six months’ time we’re finding that many of those made redundant during March and April aren’t getting back into work, we could even think about supporting the wages of those whose employers are willing to offer opportunities to train and upskill on the job.

For the generation leaving school this year, it’s not exactly a great time to be fresh out of education and looking for work, so we must also boost the support available there too, otherwise we will have thousands of young people becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training).

Almost every sector I’ve spoken to about the Apprenticeship Levy emphasises the need for more flexibility and freedom to be able to make use of the funds. There is currently a restriction on the number of apprentices small and medium-sized businesses can take on. This should be removed and we should expand and enhance the further education offer through the scheme.

Not only will that help to offer more opportunities for young people to secure work, it will also help create more jobs if businesses are able to employ more apprentices to help grow their firm faster.  Taking on an apprentice is cheaper for the employer and it will allow them to offer training and paid work to those leaving education at this difficult time.

We could even pay for the training element from government, further reducing the cost to business, with employers only needing to cover wages, allowing them to take on more people or invest elsewhere in their businesses.  There has never been a more pressing and urgent need to get the numbers of apprentices back up to record levels.

If we harness the post-COVID world in the right way, it could also be a new beginning for British entrepreneurship. By encouraging our network of great FE colleges to offer premises and staff time and expertise to support budding entrepreneurs, we could help fledgeling start-ups to get moving and support the next generation of business leaders.

In April we wiped out, at the stroke of a pen, £13.4 billion of NHS debt as a thank you for everything they are continuing to do for us in this crisis, allowing NHS hospitals to plan for the future and to invest in the vital services we all need.   There will soon come a time where we need to do the same for our FE colleges’ £1.25 billion debt in return for their help. It will be their moment to step up to the plate. I know my local college in Mansfield would snap your hand off for a chance to turn old government loans into grants to get on a better financial footing. We could make that happen if colleges can offer this support to new businesses.

The NHS has done a fantastic job in looking after us, the government’s economic support measures have provided reassurance to so many and everyone has brilliantly stayed at home, saving lives, protecting the NHS and looking after each other. But if we are to sustain this recovery we must invest in skills and training for anyone who needs it to get back into work, rather than simply spending that same money on unemployment benefit.

With a focused retraining programme for adults and an emphasis on further education and apprenticeships, we will boost people’s life chances, invest in people’s futures and ensure the British economy comes bouncing back faster than ever.

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

Ryan Bourne: The core challenge that Johnson’s Government won’t face up to. Boosting growth.

Ryan Bourne holds the R Evan Scharf Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Boris Johnson famously wants to “unleash Britain’s potential.” But where economic growth is concerned, the Bank of England thinks the problem is too little potential in the first place.

Last week, it revised down “potential output growth” for the next three years, from 1.4 per cent to 1.1 per cent per year, implying less capacity for growth without overheating. That’s a stark contrast with the historic 2.8 per cent growth rate that Sajid Javid aspires a return to.

Potential growth is calculated by making judgments on potential additional hours worked economy-wide and on potential labour productivity growth (i.e. improvements in output per hour worked). On both, the Bank’s judgment is grisly.

With unemployment low, employment high, and EU immigration slower, the Bank revised down growth attainable by simply adding people or hours. More worryingly, it has given up expecting a productivity growth rebound, instead judging our post-crash performance a kind of “new normal.” For 2020-23, it expects productivity growth of 0.5 percent per year; far below the 2.2 per cent per year seen pre-crash or even the above one per cent forecast last year.

If this seems dry and arcane, the implications are not. If accurate, worse potential growth driven by weak productivity means less robust improvements in living standards, a worse “structural” budget deficit, and macroeconomic “stimulus” becoming more impotent. Indeed, trying to “boost the economy” through Government spending or monetary stimulus would more likely just generate inflation.

As Javid prepares for his March Budget then, the Bank’s verdict should trouble him. Last March, the Office for Budget Responsibility itself forecast potential growth at 1.5 per cent for 2020, rising to 1.6 per cent through 2023. But that assumed productivity growth jumping to 1.3 per cent per year. If the OBR now agrees that 0.5 per cent is likelier, Budget day will bring terrible economic headlines.

Now we should not take the Bank’s judgment as gospel, of course. Economists understand less about “potential” than reporting suggests. Defining “capacity” for companies, let alone large economies, is hard. As Chris Dillow has written, in a world of intangible assets and digital technologies it’s not even clear what capacity means. What is Google’s “capacity”? The Bank may prove as unduly pessimistic as it recently was overoptimistic.

But that doesn’t make its intervention unimportant. Olivier Blanchard, Guido Lorenzoni and Jean Paul L’Huillier’s work suggests negative judgments from forecasters about potential growth can become self-fulling. If consumers and investors expect to be poorer, they might cut their cloth now. They find, internationally, that a 0.1 per cent downward revision to potential growth leads to a fall in consumption growth that year of anywhere between 0.4 and 0.7 per cent. Just what the Chancellor needs.

Few can deny too the problem that the Bank’s revised judgment reflects. As years since the financial crisis roll by, it becomes ever easier to conclude that Britain is in a productivity growth slump with no sign of returning to pre-crash trends. The question really is: does the government intend to do anything meaningful about it?

It feels tired to posit this question. Commentators like me having been making the case for trying to raise the potential growth rate since 2010, to little avail. Partly this reflects a helplessness from policymakers in the face of trends beyond their control; partly it’s disagreements about what pro-growth policy is.

So let’s recognise uncomfortable truths upfront. Yes, slower growth across countries since the crash suggests something about the bank crisis or the unsustainability of what went before has impaired growth. Yes, an ageing population is another headwind. And, yes, Brexit has slowed growth to date, though how much due to pure “uncertainty” chilling investment, as opposed to negative expectations about future trade policy, is unclear.

But acknowledging all this shouldn’t induce fatalism. In fact, it strengthens the imperative for other pro-growth policies in recompense. We shouldn’t just treat the economy’s weak potential as a fait accompli – an unwelcome external force that affects budgets. No, given its importance, we should see weak growth as a failure of collective current policy. At the very least, sustained poor growth gives reason to review programmes tolerable in “good times” that we suspect come with a growth trade-off.

Is the government really prioritising growth today? Javid’s ambition is commendable, but actions must follow words. Prioritising something means willingness to accept trade-offs in its pursuit. Yet last week, ministers were asked to consider cutting programmes that didn’t fulfil the Government’s stated priorities – tackling crime, funding the NHS, or “levelling up” regions. Growth got no mention. Indeed, if growth is a priority, why not ask “does this programme improve the economy’s potential?”

Often, it seems that the Government thinks talking about any economic policy is synonymous with being pro-growth. But, listening to recent announcements, it’s difficult to conclude that rapid growth is a guiding star.

True, in some areas people like me just disagree with them on what might boost growth – little surprise given how contentious the literature is. Dominic Cummings thinks a British ARPA will generate loads of spillovers from public science and R&D spending. Javid thinks a further education skills push will raise human capital in the long-term. The whole government seems sold on regional infrastructure being transformative (Japan through the 1990s colours me sceptical). We can debate this, while recognising that government noises on planning have been well-evidenced and unambiguously pro-growth.

In other areas though, growth is clearly a secondary concern, at best. No coherent tax reform agenda appears likely, and Ministers are prioritising a broad-based National Insurance cut that will do little for potential growth. Boris Johnson talks up the benefits of using regulation to strengthen environmental outcomes and worker protection; there’s little mention of growth trade-offs here, or a pro-growth review of repatriated EU laws.

Though Johnson laments mercantilists and tariffs, last week his government briefed on using them to encourage countries to make trade deals with it – an approach that has seen Donald Trump cripple U.S. manufacturing productivity by raising its input prices. Public service reform ideas seem non-existent. The minimum wage keeps being raised. On infrastructure, HS2 is being prioritised over schemes with bigger estimated economic bang for the pound. And whatever your view of climate change, it’s undeniable that rapid decarbonisation impairs an economy’s growth potential, despite fairytales of win-win “green growth.”

Now, setting all dials to maximise growth is neither easy nor politically viable. Governments, understandably, have other aims and electoral mandates. But given its central importance – not least how it can make all other challenges easier – it still gets insufficient attention. With the government’s healthy majority, anti-growth headwinds, and leaving the EU, there’s surely never been a more necessary or better time to act on the Bank’s warning and try to see what sticks.

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

Patrick Spencer: Some advice for the new Conservative leader. Stick to these three ideas to boost productivity.

Patrick Spencer is Head of Work and Welfare at the Centre for Social Justice.

The Conservative leadership contest has proved to be the battle of ideas that the party wants, needs and should probably have had back in 2016. Yes, Brexit has dominated the discussion, but in amongst chat of proroguing, No Deals and backstops, we have heard interesting ideas about, for example, tax reform, a national citizens’ service and early years support for young mothers. During the Parliamentary stage of the contest, the Centre for Social Justice hosted the Social Justice Caucus of Tory MPs, holding their own hustings event for the Conservative leadership, and the candidates didn’t disappoint.

The litany of new ideas stem from the fact that most of the candidates felt it is time to reshape the Government’s fiscal strategy. The last nine years have been defined by successive Coalition and Conservative government’s support for fiscal rebalancing. David Cameron and George Osborne successfully formed governments after two general elections on a platform of fiscal prudence.

However, the political landscape has changed. Younger voters who weren’t around to vote in 2010 now make up a sizeable chunk of the electorate. Years of austerity, job growth and a much healthier national balance sheet has meant that ‘austerity’ is increasingly unpopular.  Combine this with the perceived economic harm that a No Deal Brexit may cause, and the case for loosening austerity is compelling.

In this vein, Boris Johnson has argued for lower taxes on higher earners as well as increased spending on education. Esther McVey wanted to cut the International Aid budget and spend savings on the police and education. Dominic Raab called to raise the National Insurance Threshold and cut the basic rate of income tax. Michael Gove hoped to reform VAT so that it becomes a Sales Tax. And Sajid Javid said he would slow the rate of debt reduction, which would free up £25 billion for new spending commitments.

Even outside of the leadership circle, Tory MPs and right-of-centre think tanks are advocating for a new spending strategy.  Neil O’Brien has coined the ‘O’Brien Rule’, which allows for budget deficits as long as debt as a percentage of GDP is falling. This sentiment was echoed by Philip Hammond, who called on every leadership candidate to commit to keeping the deficit under two per cent of GDP as long as the national debt was falling.

Considering the appetite to do something, the next leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister should be warned that spending for spending’s sake is not a good idea. If the decision is taken therefore to loosen the fiscal taps, it should be carefully targeted so that this increases growth and more importantly, productivity.

The Centre for Social Justice released a report in 2017 that highlighted a clear policy agenda that used tax and spend policies to boost productivity across the UK. It is roundly recognised that the productivity conundrum in the UK has not been the result of any one issue but, rather, is a confluence of factors that have taken hold of our economic and social machine.

First and foremost, British companies do not invest and innovate enough. Compared to other countries we have lower levels of capital investment, lower uptake of new-generation technologies such as robotics, and entrepreneurs sell out too early. Britain has a proud history of innovation and technology, and yes we do have several world beating unicorn companies, but in recent years we have lost ground in the innovation stakes to the US, Germany and the Asian economies.

The CSJ recommended a raft of policies that could help reverse this, starting with a ramp up in public funds available for research and development. Public cash for R+D has a crowding in (as opposed to crowding out) effect. We also called (counter-intuitively) for the scrapping of Entrepreneurs Tax Relief. It is expensive and does little to help real entrepreneurs, and only acts as a tax loophole for asset strippers (this policy has recently been advocated by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation). We also called for simplification of the tax system. Look at the Annual Investment Allowance, for instance, that was decreased by 75 per cent in 2012, increased by a factor of 10 in 2013, doubled in 2015, only for it to then be almost cut in half in 2016.

Second, the CSJ called for a radical increase in support for vocational education in the UK. While businesses needed some help to innovate and compete, the labour market needs support in terms of skills and competencies. Recommendations included a new spending commitment for FE colleges and more support for adult learners who are in low skilled work. The Augar Review called for the Government to make £1 billion available for colleges, a good start but realistically the Government will have to go much further in the future. here is an example of where public money can make a big difference in public policy.

Last, if the next Prime Minister wants to support productivity growth, they can look at rebalancing growth outside of London across Britain’s regions. London is home to less than a quarter of the UK’s population but contributes to 37 per cent of our economic output. It attracts a disproportionate number of high skilled and high paying jobs. Public spending on infrastructure in London dwarfs that spent in the North and Midlands. Reversing this trend will of course take a generation, but by boosting transport spending on inter-city transport (most obviously Northern Rail), tax breaks for companies that set up in struggling cities such as Doncaster, Wigan or Bradford, as well as more money for towns and cities to spend on green spaces and cultural assets (such as museums, public art, restaurants and bars) that attract young people.

These three productivity-generating policy areas will allow any Government to loosen the fiscal taps without bankrupting the country. When the next Prime Minister appoints his Chancellor, he or she would be well advised to stick to the basics of cutting taxes, spending more on education and rebalancing growth outside of London.

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.

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