The New Conservatives, a coterie of 30 predominantly ‘red wall’ Conservative MPs, have called for a repurposed student funding system. They argue that pupils who fail to pass Maths or English at GCSE or get three Es at A-Level should be barred from access to student loans.
Following a fall in the UK’s GCSE Maths and English pass rates this year compared to 2022, concerns regarding fruitless university placements have intensified. According to Jonathan Gullis (pictured) and Lia Nici, two New Conservatives members, university has become a life experience as opposed to a means of academic advancement. As such, they are advocating for a German-style approach oriented around vocational training – more than 50% of German students do apprenticeships, compared to only 10% in the UK.
Gullis and Nici argue: “Eighteen-year-olds can enjoy three years away from the watchful eyes of parents, with no immediate, or even short-to-mid-term, financial cost to themselves.” A recent study by the Office for Students (OfS) revealed that 56,000 students studying at 35 universities and colleges failed to progress into their second year of study, suggesting that the main focus of university may have changed for the undergraduates of today. It was also brought to light that 62 universities and colleges housing over 11,000 students had under 60% of students securing professional jobs or training 15 months after graduating.
Many young people today could have much more opportunity if they opted for the on-job training alongside receiving an industry-recognised qualification, rather than go to university
– Jonathan Gullis and Lia Nici, New Conservatives members
Given the figures, the New Conservatives argue that both the student and taxpayer could benefit far more from qualifications in a craft or skill if academic track records fall below a certain standard. The Institute for Fiscal Studies previously disclosed that 1/5 students would be in a better position having skipped higher education, shattering the modern myth that academia is the ‘only route out’.
The rising right-wing group emphasises: “Many young people today could have much more opportunity if they opted for the on-job training alongside receiving an industry-recognised qualification, rather than go to university. But too few make that choice. It is surprising that so many young people opt for a university placement.”
Jo Johnson, former Universities Minister and a Conservative Peer, said that the proposals are “a huge mistake for the Conservative Party”.
He added: “I’d much prefer to focus on the students interpreting their own interests, working out how they’re going to best expand their minds and take their own path in life rather than people in the Department for Education (DfE) doing it.”