Here's the education policy for the next Labour government as set out yesterday – provided, of course, that they get elected. It's likely to be sending a shiver down many a Vice Chancellor's spine.
"Many people will know that if Labour is elected exactly one month from today, we will scrap university tuition fees and restore maintenance grants. But that’s just one part of our life-changing plan for real change.
Because we will invest in a National Education Service – free at the point of use – so everyone can learn at every stage of their lives. It’s one of the policies I’m most excited about. Imagine it: a National Education Service that’s there for you as a child; as an adult; and in old age – so that no one is held back.
I see education as an escalator running alongside you throughout life that you can get on and off whenever you want. That’s what Labour’s National Education Service will offer people – free education, as a right for all.
Under our plan, skills and vocational qualifications will be valued the same as university degrees. So if you left school with few GCSEs but now want to learn a new trade, Labour will make education free for you.
If you’ve done the same job for your whole working life and want to change direction, Labour will make education free for you. And if you’ve always wanted to learn new skills but can’t afford the training, Labour will make education free for you.
The National Education Service will allow you to pursue your dreams. But we don’t just benefit from our own education, we benefit from everybody else’s too.
Tomorrow’s jobs are in green and high-tech industries. We need people to have the skills to take on those jobs, breathing new life into communities that have never recovered from the destruction of industry by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives.
We can’t have a 21st-century economy if we only have 20th-century skills. And by ensuring the ultra-rich pay their way, we can provide training to everybody who needs it.
I’d rather give a break to the worker who wants to learn than give a tax break to the billionaire who wants for nothing. That’s the difference between Labour and the Conservatives.
It makes me angry when I see big multinational corporations like Amazon and Google, who rely on a well-educated workforce to make their millions, paying hardly any tax in our country.
The National Education Service will benefit those companies by giving their workers the chance to advance their skills. I simply say it would be nice if those multinationals could pay their share towards it.
And it makes me angry when I hear of schools closing on a Friday because they can’t pay their bills, while the government can afford multi-billion pound tax giveaways to corporations and the richest. It is our children who suffer as a result.
Britain should have the best education service in the world. And what is the best?
- The best is a Sure Start Centre in every community to offer health and welfare advice to new parents.
- The best is 30 hours of free childcare to all 2, 3 and 4 year olds. If you are the parent of a 2 year old, you’ll save £5,000 a year.
- The best is all primary school children learning in classes of fewer than 30.
- The best is a free school meal for every child in primary school – and we’ll put VAT on private school fees to pay for it.
- The best is an education that prepares children for life, not just exams, so we’ll get rid of unnecessary SATs.
- The best is every child being able to learn musical instruments, drama and dance – the things that bring us joy – through our Arts Pupil Premium.
- The best is well-funded schools that are locally accountable – so we’ll end the divisive academy and free schools programme.
- The best is world-leading Further Education, which is so important to working class students.
- And the best is university tuition open to anyone from any background for free, without racking up tens of thousands of pounds in debt.
The best is the National Education Service. You can have the best by voting Labour.
... It’s Labour that truly values our public services. The National Education Service will do for education what our NHS does for health."
Will this attract votes from those hitherto disinclined to vote for the party? I guess so at least at the margins. It will, of course, please the teacher / lecturer unions, some of whose members and leaders will have help draft it, but in the university sector, finance directors will despair because they know what it will inevitably mean: a real and substantial cut in income replaced by the promise from the Treasury that this will all be made up by annual direct grants. This is how it used to be before tuition fees and those of us with long memories know that the Treasury regularly kept universities starved of funds for investment (and for salaries) – because they needed the cash for sectors with more industrial muscle. This will happen again.
Another implication is that access to HE will have to be rationed; that is, not all students with qualifications will get a place – as happens now in Scotland every year. The treasury will insist on this to keep costs down – not that it will be called rationing, of course. Making it free and then making it disappear will not be a great look – but maybe someone else can be blamed. There will, of course, also be redundancies as jobs disappear.
Is the implication of this "free at the point of use " policy that MA, MSc, PhD and MBA fees will be scrapped as well? I wonder if they really mean that or is there some small print? If so, then expect more misery for VCs as Deans of Business Schools flee the country ...