Huw Richards takes a hard look at what the parties are offering in further and higher education
The Liberal Democrats promised further and higher education an extra Pounds 700 million per year by the end of the century as they launched their general election manifesto last week.
But the sector would see very little extra money in the first year of a Liberal Democrat government. Party economic adviser David Laws said that only around Pounds 20 million of new money would be allotted to non-school spending. This would rise to Pounds 700 million in the second year, with a promised extra penny on income tax in place, and Pounds 920 million in the third year, of which further and higher education would receive Pounds 700 million.
The Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru call in their manifesto for "greater coordination between the tertiary and higher education sectors.
This would include an integrated system of examinations which combined academic and vocational qualifications on a modular basis." They condemn the current system of student loans and call for "full public financing of further education".
The Scottish Nationalists, launching their programme, promised to axe the student loans system, restoring grants at 1990 levels and index-linking them. They said the Pounds 70 million a year necessary to bring this about would come from defence cuts, extra North Sea oil and gas revenues, and additional corporation tax from higher growth.
The SNP restated support for a University of the Highlands and Islands, also backed in the Scottish Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos, but not mentioned by the Scottish Conservatives in spite of substantial funding over the past year from the Scottish Secretary, Michael Forsyth.
The SNP also pro-mised an extra Pounds 120 million over four years for research and development, including a special fund for "blue-skies" academic re-search. This contrasts with the three main parties, whose manifestos were notably short on science promises.
Labour called for "a strong science base in our universities and centres of excellence leading the world" and collaboration with industry.
The Conservatives promise to "continue to invest in science and target funds at basic research which would not otherwise be funded by university".
The Liberal Democrats called for a shift from military to civil research and a network of regional technology transfer centres linking industry, universities and government laboratories.
One specific commitment on which all three are agreed is the creation of a General Teaching Council.