Having just left school, you're looking for your next challenge - and want to get a high quality academic experience and a chance to broaden your horizons. As a parent, you want your teenage children to have as many opportunities in life as possible. And as a business owner, your business is growing, but you want to bring in fresh, innovative talent to help it grow further and have an edge over your competitors. If you have found yourself in any of these situations, it is likely that you have considered university as an option, to advance your career, broaden your horizons or help improve your business. There can't be any doubt about the importance of higher education to our economy and our lives.
But one year on from the vote to treble tuition fees, the government is creating chaos in our higher education sector. The trebling of tuition fees, the tightening of student and skilled visas, the creation of a market for student places, the savage 80% cut to the teaching grant and the expansion of for-profit providers is creating chaos and confusion in our universities, and threatening our future economic growth.
Over the last year, the economy has flatlined, with more than one million young people now out of work. Our economy needs to grow. And growth needs to be sustainable, and any measures to promote growth need to recognise the importance of the knowledge based economy as a driver of national competitiveness. Universities should be at the heart of growth - in rebalancing the economy, driving regional development, and developing skills and knowledge essential for national competitiveness.
If the government is serious about economic growth across all regions and all sectors, it should be creating the conditions necessary for the sector to flourish rather than their current "make it up as you go along" approach. But instead they have trebled tuition fees and put people off applying to university. The latest UCAS figures are dire - applications to go to university next year are down 15% on this time last year. What is even more worrying is that there has been a 20% drop in applicants aged between 25 and 39 - mature students are choosing not to invest in their skills because of higher fees and a higher debt burden.
Labour has proposed to the government that they reduce the tuition fee cap to £6,000, paid for by not proceeding with the corporation tax cut on the banks, and by asking the top 10% of graduate earners to pay more back towards the cost of their degrees. We believe this is a fairer way of funding university education, leaving graduates with less debt and universities no worse off. And with that approach, we would not need the chaotic core and margin model, which is causing so much concern for universities.
The government's trebling of tuition fees was the wrong decision for our universities, and has heralded further attacks on the higher education sector. We will continue to fight the damaging changes the government is making to what should be seen as a national treasure. We need to ensure that our leading position as a knowledge economy is strengthened, not destroyed and that whether you are the small business owner looking for expertise to make your business more competitive; the 18 year old looking to enhance their career prospects; or the mature student looking to gain new high level skills - university is still an option for you.
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