Labour ‘would review whole landscape’ of tertiary education

Shadow minister Matt Western accuses government of creating ‘funding crisis’ in English universities

November 28, 2023

Labour will “review the way that the whole landscape of tertiary education works”, according to the party’s shadow higher education minister, who accused the Westminster government of creating a “funding crisis” in England.

Matt Western also accused the government of “deliberately trying to weaken and reduce the sector, stoking political fires, not engaging with the issues the sector faces or the people working in the sector”, in a speech to Independent Higher Education’s annual conference.

The “reputational impact” of this was “certainly being felt internationally”, he added.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said the party will drop its Corbyn-era policy to scrap tuition fees and fund English higher education through direct public spending – but has offered little clarity over what funding policy the party would back in government.

Mr Western said: “For too long, recent governments have chosen not to address the issue of sustainability in university funding. They have ignored [estimates on] the increasing number of 18-year-olds entering universities in the next decade, leading to greater demand and increased applications in the years ahead.”

He added: “They have damaged the appeal of the UK to international students and impacted on the value and income [international students] bring to universities. It is because of this that universities are now seeing a growing funding crisis; a crisis which creates tensions in every university workplace…and which the government is running from, rather than tackling.”

Mr Western continued: “Labour will review the way that the whole landscape of tertiary education works and how the lifelong learning entitlement can provide opportunity to further and higher education systems; that high quality learning should be accessible to everyone, at whatever stage of life, in a variety of forms.”

Labour at Westminster was “particularly interested” in the new tertiary education regulator for Wales, established by the Labour-run Welsh government, which would allow students to move “between institutions and courses”, he added.

In England, Labour would “encourage a reset in the regulatory relationship with higher education providers – a reset that enables collaboration between universities and the regulator”, he said.

Referencing the Office for Students, the English regulator, Mr Western criticised “a politicised regulator” lacking “both the respect and vision it needs to be effective”, that “does little to support the interests of students or support the development of universities”.

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Reader's comments (1)

But what will they say next week?