Britain should end its “obsession” with academic degrees and concentrate more on technical training, says influential Tory MP Robert Halfon.
The chairman of the Commons Education Committee said he sees many graduates getting “paltry returns” for university study, while the country is grappling with a skills shortage ahead of Brexit.
In a speech to the Centre for Social Justice thinktank on Monday, he will call for a radical “rebalancing” of the whole system to address the needs of students and employers.
“We have become obsessed with full academic degrees in this country,” he will say.
“We are creating a higher education system that overwhelmingly favours academic degrees, while intermediate and higher technical offerings are comparatively tiny.
“The labour market does not need an ever-growing supply of academic degrees.”
Halfon will point out that currently between a fifth and a third of graduates end up taking non-graduate jobs with the “graduate premium” varying “wildly” according to course and institution.
He will call for a major expansion of degree apprenticeships, where students earn as they learn without incurring “mountains of debt”, while arguing that those universities which do not provide a good return on academic courses should reinvent themselves as centres of technical excellence.
He will say that if the country is to continue to “lavishly furnish universities with taxpayers’ money”, there needs to be greater transparency about the returns that students can expect.
“The way we recognise universities is all wrong. We place far too much emphasis on research excellence, and not enough on teaching quality and employability,” he will say.
“Universities are an integral part of the machinery that feeds into the jobs market. It is reasonable to hold them accountable for the extent to which they prepare students for the world of work.”
Of the 59 higher education providers that received a gold standard in the Government’s teaching excellence framework, he will point out that 51 were not in the “elite” Russell Group of universities.
When it came to The Economist’s “value-added” university rankings, which compares graduates’ wages with what they would have been expected to earn if they had not gone to that university, the list was topped by Portsmouth University followed by Aston University, neither of which are in the Russell Group.
“While some Russell Group universities deserve their recognition as elite institutions, others appear to trade well on their brands, while their less reputable counterparts remain unrecognised,” Halfon will add.