Boris gets sinking feeling as ships shadow sticks oar in

March 17, 2006

Boris Johnson, the Shadow Higher Education Minister, insisted this week that his party was not opposed to opening up higher education, despite the publication of an inflammatory report on universities by one of his Conservative colleagues.

Mr Johnson, who took up his post at the start of this year, has yet to issue any formal statements about his higher education policy.

He was pipped to the post last week by Julian Brazier, the Shadow Minister for Aviation and Shipping, who released a paper calling for an end to "the systemic cancer of rewarding universities for accepting those unable to benefit".

The report, published on behalf of the right-wing Cornerstone group of MPs, argues that the higher education system allows in too many students who will not benefit from it.

Mr Brazier says in his report: "Much of the output from some of Britain's universities is unproductive, not just a waste of money but a waste of the students' time. More than a third of students who enter higher education either drop out, become unemployed or settle into jobs for which a university degree has little value."

He argues that many students - including most of those studying arts subjects - are making a substantial financial loss out of their time at university.

Mr Johnson was keen to distance himself from the paper this week, saying that he would make a speech about his own views in the near future. He said: "This is not the Conservative line. I am very, very keen that people should realise we are emphatically pro higher education. There is absolutely no question of going back to the binary divide."

He added: "I don't think we should sound crabby about people who want to get a degree - if they can benefit they should be given every chance to do so."

But he agreed that not all degrees were worthwhile.

He said: "Many of the new universities are developing in fantastic and interesting ways, but we've got to be honest that some courses are not beneficial."

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