Force universities to offer degree apprenticeships, says Tory MP

Committee chair Robert Halfon calls for universities to offer more technical degrees or lose state funding

February 5, 2018
Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government
Source: iStock

English universities that fail to offer degree apprenticeships should lose a significant part of their public funding, the chair of the Commons education committee will argue today.

Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow, will use a speech in London on 5 February to call for an end to the “UK’s obsession with academic degrees” and demand a dramatic increase in the delivery of technical training at universities.

In a speech to be delivered at the Centre for Social Justice, in collaboration with the Open University and the Learning and Work Institute, the influential MP will argue that a “rebalancing” between further and higher education is needed to improve social justice.

Mr Halfon will say that the UK has created “a higher education system that overwhelmingly favours academic degrees, while intermediate and higher technical offerings are comparatively tiny”, adding that: “We have become obsessed with full academic degrees in this country.”

Describing what he will call a generation with an “enormous wave of lost opportunity”, Mr Halfon will argue that the “jewel” of a revamped further and higher education sector should be degree apprenticeships that blend technical and academic education.

“The labour market does not need an ever-growing supply of academic degrees,” Mr Halfon will argue, claiming that between a fifth and a third of our graduates take non-graduate jobs.

“The ‘graduate premium’ varies wildly according to subject and institution, [and] for many, the returns are paltry,” he will add.

He will suggest that a significant portion of the public subsidy of universities should be ringfenced so that it can be accessed only if the university offers degree apprenticeships, while grants should also be ringfenced to ensure that flexible, online and part-time courses are delivered.

Mr Halfon, a former Conservative Party deputy chairman, will also call for greater protection of the part-time premium element of the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s widening participation funding allocation to prevent a further drop in part-time numbers.

The MP, who is often described as a champion of the working class within the Tory party, will also call for changes to the under-fire apprenticeship levy to help disadvantaged apprentices and criticise some Russell Group universities, which, he will claim, are highly ranked because of their research and not because they always offer employability skills, quality teaching and value for money for undergraduate students.

Commenting on Mr Halfon’s proposals, James Scales, head of education policy for the Centre for Social Justice, said that “technical education is still a pale shadow of its academic cousin” and it was “vital that we unlock technical education's enormous potential”.

“Invariably, our most disadvantaged pupils have the most to gain from addressing our skills deficit,” said Mr Scales, adding that “by building a world-class technical offering, we would open a powerful conduit for social justice”.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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