Higher education reform is our priority | Letter from Robert Halfon MP | Education

I welcome the debate on what universities and higher education should be for, but Zoe Williams clearly needs to look at the education committee’s findings more closely rather than just highlighting one line out of one of my speeches (For Tories, the poor don’t need education, Journal, 6 November).

Our report this week is focused on skills, social justice and good graduate outcomes. The fact is we have a huge skills deficit in our country, with the manufacturers organisation, the EEF, warning that almost three-quarters of businesses are concerned about finding workers with the skills they need. Yet just eight out of 24 Russell Group universities are offering degree apprenticeships.

On social justice, we are determined to reverse the decline of people from disadvantaged areas going to university, with the number falling by 15% each year since 2011. Meanwhile, the number of part-time students has also dropped by 51% between 2010 and 2015. There should be more flexible learning to encourage part-timers and an end to the rigid structure of three-year degrees, so students can hop on and off courses and build credits. We also call for the reintroduction of maintenance grants.

Finally, it is entirely wrong that the salaries of vice-chancellors have in some cases become obscene and out of kilter with reality. There should be very strict criteria on acceptable levels of pay, enforced by the new Office for Students.

The problem is that about half of all graduates are not getting graduate jobs. The cross-party committee firmly believes that if students are going to take on the big burden of a loan, as well as having a good education, there must surely be a good graduate job at the end of it.
Robert Halfon MP
Chair, House of Commons education select committee

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