Universities push back on Sunak claims

Professor Malcolm Press

Universities and a centre that promotes academic and business links have said a Conservative plan to invest in apprenticeships as a replacement for ‘rip off degrees’ misses the mark.

The Conservatives claim they would save £910m by 2030 if it scrapped courses that taught 13% of students because graduates are not paying back their student loans because they don’t earn enough money to meet the repayment threshold.

They pledged to invest in “100,000 more apprentices per year by the end of the next Parliament.”

Yesterday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “University is great and it makes a fantastic option for young people, but it’s not the only option… And what we do know is that there are university degrees that are letting young people down.”

In response, Rosalind Gill, Head of Policy and Engagement at the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) said: “University is a significant investment with profound returns. Graduates drive knowledge economies, typically facing lower unemployment and higher wages. 

She said the Prime Minister’s plan, which would cap student numbers on ‘low-quality courses’ in England misses the mark and says the new Government must instead “strive to understand future needs to inform today’s higher education.”

Gill continued: “Such measures would unfairly target disadvantaged students and places with lower wages, stifling social mobility and entrepreneurship. Instead, the Government should leverage labour market data to help educational institutions prepare for future needs.”

Rosalind Gill

Gill concluded: “We are facing a severe skills crisis in the UK, with four in five businesses facing recruitment issues. Whilst we are very supportive of a proposed, increased number of apprenticeships, this does not mean the Government needs to take further measures to restrict higher education. UK universities excel globally, not only in research but also in student completion rates, crucial for economic prosperity. We hope the new Government recognises this, and is prepared to make sensible decisions, for the future of work.”

Professor Malcolm Press, vice chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, a leading provider of degree apprenticeships, and vocational degree courses, also hit back at Sunak’s latest anti-university rhetoric.

“The Conservative Party’s hope to deliver 100,000 new highly skilled apprenticeships a year is welcome, but the suggestion that universities are ripping off students and not delivering opportunities or financial security is far from the truth. It shows a lack of understanding of what young people seek from their university experience and the benefits that they gain.

“On apprenticeships, we know that they are growing in popularity.  The evidence also shows that degree apprenticeships can increase social mobility, career progression, and boost productivity. A commitment to increase them will give more people who perhaps would not automatically consider studying for a degree an opportunity to access the benefits that a university education can bring,” he said.