PM issues warning on degree value as FE takes precedence

Boris Johnson says ‘talent and genius are expressed as much by hand and by eye as they are in a spreadsheet or an essay’

June 30, 2020
Boris Johnson
Source: iStock

Too many courses in universities “are not now delivering value”, Boris Johnson said, as he signalled that further education would be prioritised when the government bids to rebuild the UK economy after the coronavirus pandemic.

In a speech delivered at a college of technology in Dudley, setting out plans for the economy to “bounce back better”, the prime minister said that “for a century we have failed to invest enough in further education and give young people the practical training and further education they need”.

Contrasting this with the higher education sector, Mr Johnson said that the UK has “umpteen fantastic, globally outstanding universities, and yet too many degree courses are not now delivering value”.

Mr Johnson said that £1.5 billion would be invested in refurbishing “dilapidated” further education colleges, “because it is time the system recognised that talent and genius are expressed as much by hand and by eye as they are in a spreadsheet or an essay”.

Mr Johnson’s comments on higher education in the speech focused on access, saying that he wanted to “end the current injustice that means a pupil from a London state school is now 50 per cent more likely to go to a top university than a pupil from the West Midlands”.

“That is not only unjust, it is such a waste of human talent,” the prime minister said.

Mr Johnson, did, however, highlight the creation of a new research funding agency modelled on the US’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which will support “high-risk, high-reward projects”.

“Though we are no longer a military superpower, we can be a science superpower,” the prime minister said, adding that a priority would be to “end the chasm between invention and application that means a brilliant British discovery disappears to California and becomes a billion-dollar American company or a Chinese company”.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (5)

Just full of a ragbag of nonsense. Prioritise FE, get more midlands students into good unis and spend more on turning ideas into world leading products while bashing ‘low value degrees’. Clueless populist rhetoric with no real strategy.
Having worked in both FE and HE, FE is underfunded and does need more support, however there is no reason to use this to 'bash' universities. Why is there always this compulsion, when there are inequalities, to 'drag down' those who are doing well rather than 'lift up' those who are being less-well provided for? I also question Johnson's ability to see the 'value' of a university education, or even be in a position to assess it with any competence. He's clearly confused about the difference between earning a high salary on graduation and actually being a more rounded and developed individual, the real 'value' of studying at this level. Having taught in both, I understand that there is a difference which may not be appreciated by someone who's never been near FE in his life... it is through working in FE that I know its value, its strengths and its weaknesses, something I did not appreciate before having been, like Johnson, educated in the private sector and done my A-levels in a private school sixth form before trotting off to university. FE is much more about training and preparation for work than HE is: both have their place and we should all work to make both of them as good as we can, and ensure that each individual has unfettered access to all the education in both forms that will benefit them and help them develop into the sort of people - able to learn, capable of critical thought, equipped with domain-specific knowledge and a good work ethic - that the world needs to thrive.
Unlike m.robertson8_291084 having studied and worked in both FE and HE I can understand where Boris is coming from to a degree. The loading up of the higher education system with students, using FE & HE to keep 'youth' unemployment numbers down and subsequent debt loading those students hasn't gone so well for many, debt is a well known method of controlling people as the cheap sale of council houses under Thatcher proved. Then there's the real world return on investment, both for the student but also wider society, how many of the courses give good VFM for one or both?
@m.robertson8_291084 above - there IS a reason for Johnson to 'bash universities' in his speech: that reason being that it plays well to his main audience who berate "universities" as being seething cauldrons of left-wing indoctrination, poisoning the minds of the gullible young.
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The main difference between HE and FE is that FE aims to prepare students for work, and HE aims to develop students as critical thinkers, able to understand complex methods and arguments, compare proposed strategies and evaluate their results, collect evidence and draw conclusions, and continue their learning independently. Critically thinking voters don't buy cheap slogans and are not easily influenced by propaganda.

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