Thursday 23 July 2020 / 3:00 PM Education / Emma Hardy

Labour to launch ‘7 Key Tests for Higher Education’ and calls on the Government to help UK universities and students

The Labour Party has called for the Government to meet seven key tests to support UK universities, guarantee students get the support they need to succeed and ensure that a degree course is available to anyone with the aspirations to study one: whatever their background or circumstances and wherever they live.

Emma Hardy MP, Labour’s Shadow Further Education and Universities Minister, spoke to students ahead of the campaign launch today to hear the challenges they have been facing in light of the pandemic crisis, and how they can be supported better.

Labour’s 7 Key Tests for Higher Education are as follows:

  1. No university should be allowed to go bust and there must be equality of opportunity for all in every region
  2. Reduce barriers to learning
  3. Protect and enhance domestic and international research
  4. Enhance a co-operative and co-ordinated Higher Education sector across the whole of the UK
  5. Prevent further financial hardship for current students
  6. Provide comprehensive support for 2020 final year students
  7. Promote universities as civic institutions

These seven tests are designed to create a comprehensive solution to ensure universities and students are safeguarded from the economic impact of this crisis and the challenges that they face.

Many UK universities will suffer significant financial losses linked to the pandemic including a fall in international student numbers, and students graduating in 2020 will also face a difficult future as the jobs sector takes a hit, yet the support from Government has been lacking. Covid-19 has sent shockwaves through the higher education sector with potential losses of £6 billion and 30,000 direct redundancies, with a further 30,000 in the local economies

Emma Hardy, Shadow Further Education and Universities Minister, said:

“No country has ever increased economic activity through reducing access to higher education. This Government cannot allow any university to fail and it must ensure everyone in every region with the desire to learn has access to a university.

“By passing these 7 key tests the government will show commitment to our higher education sector, to our young people, and to our regional economies. Meeting these tests will help guarantee a fairer society and allow aspiration to flourish.

“I have written to the Secretary of State today to ask him to show support for every person who aspires to attend university and to protect the equality of opportunity for everyone in every region as part of Labour’s ‘7 Key Higher Education Tests’ campaign.’’

Ends

Notes to editors:

  • Letter from Emma Hardy to Secretary of State for Education:

Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP
Secretary of State for Education
Department for Education
Sanctuary Buildings
Great Smith Street
London
SW1P 3BT

Dear Secretary of State,

A thriving higher education sector is vital to help our country build back better from the Covid-19 crisis.

It is a matter of concern that when announcing the Higher Education Restructuring Regime plan you began by explicitly stating a willingness to see individual universities fail. These public comments have thrown doubt on your commitment to the higher education sector and the benefits it brings to all regions and groups in society.

Higher education provides the highly trained people our country needs to succeed: nurses, doctors and health and social care workers for the NHS; teachers; researchers; engineers; linguists; chemists; artists; musicians; mathematicians; I am sure you could make your own additions to this far from exhaustive list. No country has ever increased its prosperity by reducing the higher education sector.

Never again can a university education be something just for the privileged few rather than something available to anyone with the aspirations to study one: whatever their background or circumstances and wherever they live.

The Labour Party is setting seven asks for the Government to meet that will ensure all our country’s universities remain secure and ready for the challenges ahead.

1. Ensure equality of opportunity for all in every region. The loss of any individual university will create dead zones for local access to higher education. Everyone, everywhere has the right to the education and training they need. Many local economies rely on the contributions of their university and 30,000 associated jobs are under threat.

2. Reduce barriers to learning. Widening Participation activities were dramatically reduced under Covid 19 but the Government should double down on the demand for universities to meet their five-year widening participation and access targets. BAME students have a consistently poorer experience of university. Part-time student numbers and mature student numbers have been dramatically declining. These issues need urgently addressing.

3. Protect and enhance domestic and international research. International student fees cross subsidise research to the tune of £4.2 billion. Their numbers are set to take a big hit. The Government looks set to reject participation in Horizon 2020 and the funding and international partnerships it brings with no proposals to make good the losses. The UK is a research powerhouse but that position is now at risk.

4. Enhance a co-operative and co-ordinated Higher Education sector across the whole of the UK. Government must ensure any future decisions involve all nations of the UK as equal partners and take into consideration all stakeholders and the different circumstances across the entire UK. Its use of Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) data focussing on post-graduate salaries discriminates against some regions and presents a skewed picture of the true worth of those universities to their communities.

5. Prevent further financial hardship for current students. No student should get into further debt because of Covid19. It should guarantee university hardship funds are sufficiently resourced and accessible to all who need them.

6. Provide comprehensive support for 2020 final year students. The jobs market they enter will be severely depressed. They cannot be left to flounder. Proposals from the sector include a system of six-month long paid internships at the national living wage which would allow graduates to gain invaluable experience. So far, the government has offered nothing.

7. Promote universities as civic institutions. Universities have a vital community and development role to play in helping to build back better. Many are already actively engaged in the task. Government must insist every institution develops a clear strategy, with the active participation of local partners, aimed at meeting the needs and opportunities of their area.

The future prosperity of our nation depends on the education and skills of its people. True equality of opportunity is the cornerstone of a fair society. I believe that meeting these asks will help guarantee that future and allow aspiration to flourish.I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Emma Hardy