Theresa May condemns the ‘outdated attitude’ on university

Theresa May will today condemn the ‘outdated attitude’ that university is the best option for all school-leavers.

In a speech challenging snobbery around skills training, she will criticise the notion that technical courses are ‘for other people’s children’.

The Prime Minister will also say she accepts that tuition fees are very high and that many graduates do not get a good return on their investment.

Theresa May will condemn the ‘outdated’ idea that university is the best option for all school-leavers, in a speech that will challenge snobbery around skills training

The Government is launching a wholesale review of the post-18 education system and the funding of universities.

An independent team, which is expected to report early next year, will: Examine different fee levels for different courses, with the cost of arts and social sciences likely to fall; Consider publishing data on the likely financial benefits to students of different qualifications; Investigate the possible return of a student grant system; Look at two-year degree courses and part-time options where students can work at the same time.

Mrs May will pledge in her speech in Derbyshire to break down the boundaries between academic and vocational courses. And she will say she wants to create equal access to university education – access not dependent on background.

Her comments mark a reversal of the New Labour target for half of school-leavers to go to university. The target is said to have led to higher drop-out rates, more courses that do not provide value for money and vast numbers of graduates ending up in non-graduate jobs.

Mrs May will say: ‘For those young people who do not go on to academic study, the routes into further technical and vocational training today are hard to navigate, the standards across the sector are too varied and the funding available to support them is patchy.

‘So now is the time to take action to create a system that is flexible enough to ensure that everyone gets the education that suits them.’

On university fees, the Prime Minister will say that she shares concerns about how the system is funded: ‘The competitive market between universities which the system of variable tuition fees envisaged has simply not emerged.

‘All but a handful of universities charge the maximum possible fees for undergraduate courses. Three-year courses remain the norm. And the level of fees charged does not relate to the cost or quality of the course. We now have one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world.’

The Prime Minister is also expected to criticise the University funding system for leaving poorer students with the highest levels of debt

The Prime Minister is also expected to criticise the University funding system for leaving poorer students with the highest levels of debt

Mrs May will criticise a ‘funding system which leaves students from the lowest-income households bearing the highest levels of debt, with many graduates left questioning the return they get for their investment’.

The review will look at ‘how disadvantaged students and learners receive maintenance support, both from the government and universities and colleges’.

Yesterday Education Secretary Damian Hinds indicated that tuition fees should be based partly on how much a course helps a student’s career.

He suggested courses that cost more for universities to provide – such as science and engineering – could be subsidised to keep costs under control. As well as the level of tuition fees, the review will look at the interest rates on student loans.

Mr Hinds said it was right that students who benefit from their degree should contribute to the cost. But he added: ‘What we are doing in the review is looking at how that system works, making sure there are alternatives, making sure there is more variety.

‘That could include lower-cost ways of delivering education. It might mean shorter courses, which also means less time out of the labour market, more opportunities to be able to study while you work.’

Former education secretary Justine Greening suggested interest rates on loans could be set at 0 per cent, and called for the reintroduction of maintenance grants.

She also said it was important that young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds did not feel they should sign up to the cheaper courses.

Instead they should consider ‘doing the degree that they actually want, that will really unlock their potential and future’.

Last year Mrs May announced that students would not start paying back their loans until they started earning £25,000 – up from £21,000 currently.

It is estimated that around two thirds of students will never pay back their debt. The current system means loans are written off entirely after 30 years.

Some students face interest rates as high as 6.1 per cent.

Grammars ‘should get more cash’ 

Grammar schools should be allowed to expand to meet parental demand for more places, the Education Secretary said yesterday.

Damian Hinds wants to extend funding available to comprehensives for new classrooms and facilities to selective schools.

‘When it is possible for them to expand physically, I want them to be able to expand,’ he told The Sunday Times. ‘There are capital sources available for most schools to be able to do that when they want to.

‘I’m looking at how to also facilitate that for selective schools.’

There are 163 grammar schools left in England. A law passed two decades ago under Labour means new grammars are banned.

Theresa May wanted to repeal the law and create a new generation of selective schools, but she was forced to drop the plans amid fears that opponents on the Tory benches could scupper them.

Mr Hinds, who went to a Catholic grammar school in Manchester, also said he intended to lift a cap on new faith schools that means they cannot recruit more than half their pupils by religion.

‘Give students refunds for strike action’ 

Students should get compensation if their education is disrupted by strikes, the universities minister has suggested.

Sam Gyimah said it was up to individual institutions whether they paid compensation but students had rights that must be taken into account.

The University and College Union is planning industrial action starting on February 22 in a dispute over pensions. Mr Gyimah told the BBC: ‘By virtue of the fact students pay fees for their education they have consumer rights and I want universities to respect those consumer rights under consumer law and that includes compensation where they are losing out on their courses.’

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt accused universities of doing nothing to avert strike action over pensions.