The Conservative Party has pledged to strengthen higher education in its 2010 general election manifesto.
“We will ensure that Britain’s universities enjoy the freedom to pursue academic excellence and focus on raising the quality of the student experience,” says the Tories’ Invitation to Join the Government of Britain.
But the document, launched on 13 April, sets out little detail about how this will be achieved.
The policy statements directly relevant to higher education include pledges to delay the implementation of the research excellence framework, to “consider carefully” the findings of Lord Browne’s review of university and student finance and to provide 10,000 extra university places in 2010-11, funded by early repayment of student loans.
The manifesto also says the party will implement recommendations made by Sir James Dyson aimed at improving Britain’s position as a high-tech exporter. These include setting up “joint university-business research and development institutes” and a multi-year science and research budget.
The manifesto adds: “We will promote fair access to universities, the professions, and good jobs for young people from all backgrounds.” Scrapping Labour’s schemes such as Train to Gain will fund 400,000 “work pairing, apprenticeship, college and training places over two years” and pay for an all-age careers advice service and a Community Learning Fund to help people restart their careers.
“We will set colleges free from direct state control and abolish many of the further education quangos Labour have put in place,” the document says.
Further education colleges will be funded by a single agency, a new Further Education Funding Council, and funding will follow the student.
The Conservatives vow to raise the status of teaching by raising entry requirements. New graduates will be expected to have a minimum of a 2:2 degree to qualify for state-funded teacher training. “Top” maths and science graduates will have their student loans repaid for as long as they remain teachers, a pledge that will be paid for by redirecting some of the current teacher-training budget.
The manifesto also includes a promise to give university and further education scholarships to the children of servicemen and women killed while on active duty, backdated to 1990.
Meanwhile, the Conservative Party has attacked Labour for abandoning its 50 per cent university participation target in favour of a wider objective to get 75 per cent of young people to enter higher education, complete an advanced apprenticeship or undergo technician-level training by the age of 30.
Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove accused the government of “moving the goalposts”. He said: “With the target being missed, the government is now attempting to move to a broader measure that includes apprenticeships and other types of non-university training.”