Tory manifesto pledges to ‘consider carefully’ Augar plans

Conservatives also aim to tackle ‘low-quality courses’ in England and ‘reform the science funding system’

November 25, 2019
Boris Johnson
Source: iStock

The Conservatives have issued manifesto pledges to “consider carefully” the “thoughtful” recommendations of the Augar review on English university funding, to explore ways to “tackle the problem of low-quality courses” and to “reform the science funding system to cut the time wasted by scientists filling in forms”.

The manifesto, published on 24 November, also pledges to “strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities”.

The Boris Johnson government has thus far failed to issue an official response to the review of post-18 education, set up by the previous prime minister, Theresa May, and chaired by Philip Augar. The review called for tuition fees at universities to be lowered from £9,250 to £7,500, with replacement funding provided in full, but allocated to subjects with the greatest “social or economic value” or with higher costs. Universities feared the Treasury would not provide the replacement funding, meaning the recommendations could pave the way to major funding cuts.

The Augar review also recommended a three-year freeze on tuition fees before the lower fee level was phased in.

The Conservative manifesto says: “The Augar review made thoughtful recommendations on tuition fee levels, the balance of funding between universities, further education and apprenticeships and adult learning, and we will consider them carefully.”

The manifesto adds: “We will look at the interest rates on loan repayments with a view to reducing the burden of debt on students.”

And it also says: “We also will continue to explore ways to tackle the problem of grade inflation and low-quality courses, and improve the application and offer system for undergraduate students.”

The call to tackle “low quality courses” could be a major development, if that were to mean any restrictions on student loan access on courses with graduate earnings outcomes deemed to be sub-standard.

The manifesto pledges to “strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities and continue to focus on raising standards”.

Whether that means any changes to existing statutory and regulatory requirements on universities to uphold academic freedom and freedom of speech is not addressed in the manifesto.

Controversies over free speech in universities have become a rallying point for sections of the right, as they have done in the US.

The manifesto also includes a commitment to “strengthen universities and colleges’ civic role. We will invest in local adult education and require the Office for Students to look at universities’ success in increasing access across all ages, not just young people entering full-time undergraduate degrees.”

On UK science, the manifesto reiterates that the Conservatives would introduce “the fastest ever increase in domestic public [research and development] spending, including in basic science research to meet our target of 2.4 per cent of [gross domestic product] being spent on R&D across the economy”.

The manifesto repeats a previous commitment, driven by the prime minister’s adviser Dominic Cummings, that “some of this new spending will go to a new agency for high-risk, high-payoff research, at arm’s length from government”.

It pledges to “continue to collaborate internationally and with the [European Union] on scientific research, including Horizon”, which suggests a Conservative government would seek to associate to the EU’s next research programme, which starts in January 2021.

The commitment to “reform the science funding system to cut the time wasted by scientists filling in forms” is another preoccupation of Mr Cummings that has previously drawn concern from science policy experts about the potential for greater government involvement in decisions about the allocation of research funding.

Listen: John Morgan wades through the 2019 party manifestos and discusses how the parties’ proposals will affect higher education in our THE podcast

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles