New minister Halfon criticises QAA’s ‘decolonisation nonsense’

Latest DfE appointee tells event he does not want the policy debate ‘to be about Oxbridge, Oxbridge, Oxbridge’

November 16, 2022
Robert Halfon speaks at THE Campus Live

New higher education minister Robert Halfon has criticised “decolonising nonsense” from the Quality Assurance Agency and challenged any university not offering a degree apprenticeship “to ask yourself why”.

Mr Halfon gave his first major speech as England’s minister for skills, apprenticeships and higher education at Times Higher Education’s THE Campus Live event in London.

He referred to the QAA’s request for lecturers to decolonise curricula on courses such as mathematics, which was first reported by THE. The issue has since been widely covered in the national press, including a report in the Daily Mail that claimed the QAA was advising universities to decolonise courses “from computing to classics”.

“I’m passionate about social justice,” Mr Halfon told the event. “I want to do everything I can to ensure disadvantaged young people are able to go to university…Real social justice is about closing our skills gaps and helping students into good jobs, especially [students] from different backgrounds, not the decolonising nonsense that we’ve seen in media reports today from the QAA.

“I’m very glad the OfS [Office for Students] has said they do not endorse what has been reported.”

Mr Halfon also said he was “profoundly depressed” by recent rows over access to the universities of Cambridge and Oxford. Right-wing newspapers have criticised the universities over declines in offer-making to private school pupils and their use of contextual data in admissions.

“I don’t want the policy debate to be about Oxbridge, Oxbridge, Oxbridge,” said Mr Halfon.

“What argument do we want to have? Is it really which students get into Oxbridge, or whether all our higher education institutions meet the needs of young people who rely on them for future employability or prosperity?”

The minister, who has previously been criticised by Oxford vice-chancellor Louise Richardson for comments he made about employment and higher education, said: “I believe the point of university, as a student, is to grow your intellect; gain skills and knowledge; and perhaps most importantly get a good skilled job at the end.”

He argued that England “lags behind many countries in producing work-ready candidates” with qualifications to match higher-skilled jobs.

“Continuing on this path would be to let down young people who invest their time and future earnings in higher education, who expect to enter good jobs when they are graduating,” he went on.

Mr Halfon said his “dream” was to “rocket boost” degree apprenticeships.

The words “degree apprenticeships” are his “two favourite words in the English language,” he said.

“If your university does not offer a single degree apprenticeship, you should ask yourself why,” he added.

“Let’s end the social apartheid between academic and technical education,” the minister continued. “This will only happen when technical qualifications, vocational qualifications, are talked of in the same breath as academic ones.”

Degree apprenticeships, Mr Halfon argued, offered a route into good jobs, “a ladder of opportunity for disadvantaged young people”.

“All of higher education must play a role in levelling up opportunities for all,” he added. “I know you’re onside with this.”

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