‘War against universities will stop’ under Labour, says Kyle

Shadow science secretary accuses Rishi Sunak of ‘talking down’ English higher education with attack on ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees

June 4, 2024
Orlando, FL, USA. August 17, 2016 Mickey Mouse statue at Hollywood Studios viewed from behind
Source: iStock

Shadow science secretary Peter Kyle has pledged that the “war against universities will stop” if Labour wins the UK general election.

On a visit to Keele University’s local carbon energy generation park, where he toured a solar farm, Mr Kyle accused Rishi Sunak of “talking down” English higher education following the Conservative leader’s attacks on “Mickey Mouse” degrees.

Mr Sunak has promised a renewed crackdown on “rip-off degrees” if the Tories top the 4 July poll, saying that he will redirect funding to create 100,000 more apprenticeships.

But Mr Kyle, who is standing for re-election in Hove, said this was the wrong way to talk about universities, and warned that such language could have a significant impact on vital international student revenue.

“Just this week, we’ve heard the prime minister stand up and for the second time in six months talk about ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses,” he said.

“This is heard around the world in a nanosecond – to have a prime minister who’s talking down our incredible university higher education sector. That war on universities will stop if there’s a Labour government.”

Mr Kyle told reporters that he had to apply to university four times before being accepted by the University of Sussex in his mid-twenties.

“Nobody can ever tell me that ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses at universities don’t unlock potential in people that need it unlocked,” Mr Kyle said.

Under the Conservative plans, about one in eight degree programmes would close, with those with the highest dropout rates and poorest job prospects targeted.

However, critics have pointed out that apprenticeship starts have been falling under the Conservatives and have questioned whether students who would have enrolled on cancelled degrees would be likely to choose an apprenticeship, or would just switch to another university.

Data held by the English regulator, the Office for Students, indicates that only 1 per cent of students are registered with providers that are deemed to be falling below expectations.

Speaking previously, Vivienne Stern, the chief executive of Universities UK, said there was a “narrow-minded obsession” with earnings as a measure of quality that “missed the many other benefits of going to university – to the individual and the country”. She was, she continued, “fed up of people talking down universities – which are one of the things the UK can be genuinely proud of”.


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