The part-time manifesto

Labour reaffirms STEM commitment but abandons 50 per cent participation in favour of 75 per cent objective via foundation degrees, apprenticeships and technical training. Rebecca Attwood reports

April 12, 2010

Labour has set out plans in its general election manifesto to focus future university expansion on foundation degrees, part-time study and science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In the manifesto published today, the party pledges to continue the expansion of higher education, with its former 50 per cent participation target replaced by a wider objective for 75 per cent of young people to enter higher education, complete an advanced apprenticeship or undergo technician-level training by the age of 30.

The party calls for universities to “raise their game” in outreach to state schools, widening participation and boosting social mobility.

It also lays down a guarantee to mentor and support all low-income pupils with the potential for university study via extra summer schools and help with applications, and promises to expand programmes designed to encourage able students from poorer backgrounds to attend one of the research-intensive Russell Group universities.

The document adds that the party supports universities that take into account the context of applicants’ educational achievements, including their personal and social background.

Under Labour, higher education expansion would be more focused in the future, according to the manifesto.

“In the coming years, priority in the expansion of student places will be given to foundation degrees and part-time study, and to science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees, as well as applied study in key economic growth sectors,” it says.

Meanwhile, the “choices and views” of students should play an important part in “shaping” courses and teaching, it adds.

Universities will be required to explain how they will ensure “a high-quality learning experience” for students.

The party adds that it is committed to a ring-fenced science budget in the next Comprehensive Spending Review, and will also invest in Technology and Innovation Centres.

It says that it will support university research through the Higher Education Innovation Fund and the development of a University Enterprise Capital Fund, support for which was announced in last month’s Budget.

“We must seize the opportunity to develop education, in particular higher education, as a great export business,” the document says.

“Universities will be encouraged to develop international links and research partnerships, and we want The Open University and learndirect to reach the global market in distance learning.”

Other plans include scholarships designed to allow the best apprentices to progress into higher education.

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