A student’s guide to the UK general election

Figure out who you are going to vote for in the upcoming UK general election with this guide on what the political parties are promising for higher education 

December 5 2019
Polling station

On 12 December, the UK public will once again head to polling stations, voting for the future of the country and determining how Brexit will play out, among many other important election issues.

One of these such issues is education, a key concern for university students. So I’ve gone through all the main party manifestos, picking out their key promises for higher education and education that may affect you while at university and post-graduation. 

The impact of the student vote has long been discussed by political commentators, and voting is a crucial way to make your voice heard and comment on the policies that will continue to shape the country for years to come.  

Conservatives

  • Consider the “thoughtful” recommendations of the Augar review
  • Strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities and continue to focus on raising standards.  
  • Look at interest rates on loan repayments with a view to reducing the burden of debt on students.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Provide student nurses with a £5,000-£8,000 annual maintenance grant every year, which they won’t have to pay back. Everyone will receive at least £5,000 with further funding in the regions or disciplines that are struggling to recruit, and help with childcare costs will be provided.
  • Have a student visa that will help universities attract talented young people and allow those students to stay on to apply for work here after they graduate.
  • Create a new National Skills fund worth more than £3 billion over the next Parliament – which will provide matching funding for individuals and SMEs for high-quality education and training.
  • Invest almost £2 billion to upgrade the further education college estate. Will also create 20 institutes of technology that will connect high-quality teaching in science, technology, engineering and maths to business and industry.

 Labour

  • Commit to abolishing tuition fees and reintroducing maintenance grants.
  • Fundamentally rethink the assessment of research and teaching quality and develop a new funding formula.
  • Aligning the base rate of per-pupil funding in post-16 education with Key Stage 4, providing dedicated capital funding to expand provision and bringing back the Education Maintenance Allowance.
  • Restore funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses.
  • Ensure all public HE institutions have adequate funding for teaching and research.
  • Widen access to higher education and reverse the decline of part-time learning.
  • Transform the Office for Students from a market regulator to a body of the National Education Service, acting in the public interest.
  • Introduce post-qualification admissions in higher education and work with universities to ensure contextual admissions are used across the system.

Augar review: will tuition fees in the UK be reduced to £7.5K?
Required reading: how will Brexit affect students?
How can young people be encouraged to vote?
Students react to EU referendum results
UK general election 2019: where could students impact the vote?


Liberal Democrats

  • Invest an extra £1 billion in further education funding, including by refunding colleges for the VAT they pay.
  • Help children from poorer families to remain in education and training beyond the age of 16 by introducing a “Young People’s Premium”.
  • Raise standards in universities by strengthening the Office for Students, to make sure all students receive a high-quality education.
  • Require universities to make mental health services accessible to their students and introduce a student mental health charter through legislation. The mental health charter will require all universities and colleges to ensure a good level of mental health provisions and services for students.
  • Reinstate maintenance grants for the poorest students, ensuring that living costs are not a barrier to disadvantaged young people studying at university.
  • Establish a review of higher education finance in the next Parliament to consider any necessary reforms in light of the latest evidence of the impact of the existing financing system on access, participation and quality, and make sure there are no more retrospective raising of rates or selling-off of loans to private companies.
  • Ensure that all universities work to widen participation of disadvantaged and under-represented groups across the sector, prioritising their work with students in schools and colleges and require every university to be transparent about selection criteria.

Green Party

  • Revive the further education sector to provide a wider choice of academic and vocational learning. Will also raise the funding rate for 16-17-year-olds, followed by an annual rise in line with inflation, at the same time as introducing a capital expansion fund for sixth-form providers.
  • Fully fund every higher education student and scrap undergraduate tuition fees. University will be fully accessible, with courses being offered as learning experiences, not as pre-work training. 
  • Write off existing debt for former students who studied under the £9,000 tuition fee regime.
  • Increase funding for adult education across England and Wales, creating a range of new adult education programmes for learners to access. These programmes will be integrated with Green New Deal training projects.

Scottish National Party

  • There will be no return to tuition fees in Scotland.

Plaid Cymru

  • No clear pledges on higher education. 

Brexit Party

  • Promises to abolish both student loan interest and the target to push 50 per cent of young people into higher education.
  • The Apprenticeship Levy will also be scrapped and tax incentives will be given to employers to entice them to take on “genuine apprentices”.

A note on voting eligibility

Although it is too late to register to vote, if you fit into any of the categories below, then you are able to vote in this general election:

  • If you are 18 or over on the day of the election (you are able to register to vote at the age of 17 if you will be 18 by the next general election)
  • A British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen
  • Registered at an address in the UK (students are able to register to vote at both their home and term-time addresses if they are in two different local authority areas. However, you can only vote in one area at a general election)
  • Not legally excluded from voting. 

Read more: The future of the planet is in all of our hands

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