The UK Independence Party could join the political debate on higher education policy, arguing that too many people go to university, warned the head of a Tory modernising group.
Ryan Shorthouse, director of Bright Blue, also told a Higher Education Policy Institute seminar that coalition higher education policy has been “more radical” than the introduction of free schools, often cited as the government’s most revolutionary policy change.
Mr Shorthouse, a former researcher for David Willetts in opposition, identified two possible points of tension for the Conservatives in the run-up to the election when he spoke at the event in London on 14 May.
One was the expansion in university places after the government’s decision to abolish the cap on student numbers in 2015-16. “There are some who think there are too many ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses and more people should be doing vocational education,” Mr Shorthouse said.
“If [Ed] Miliband turns up the volume on a radical [higher education] policy, so HE becomes a big political issue, I think Ukip could trumpet the idea that too many people go to university and really challenge the agenda on HE expansion”.
The other point of tension was immigration and international students, he said, arguing that Tory party modernisers “are pushing for a more distinctive and balanced policy agenda on immigration, which is different from Ukip’s”.
Bright Blue has launched a campaign for the Conservatives to take students out of the net migrant count. “Tories should not offer an immigration policy which is just Ukip-lite,” he said.
Enabling universities and businesses to recruit who they want was “important for the economy and national prosperity” he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Shorthouse argued that “especially on the supply-side expansion and also on support for the most disadvantaged students” the government’s higher education policy “has been more radical than the schools agenda”.
Times Higher Education contacted Ukip to ask about its higher education policy, but the party did not respond.