UKIP: Righting Wrongs in Higher Education

The UKIP manifesto, in so many ways the ultimate proof that a little learning is a dangerous thing, contains a whole range of policies that sit at one remove to orthodoxy in their fields.  There are too many to recount, but in the field of Higher Education they make an outstanding contribution to the development of the More Means Worse argument, and so should be recognised here.  No doubt UKIP being led by former PhD student Paul Nuttall helps enormously.

First we have policies for students in health.

Despite our national doctor shortage, nearly 800 straight ‘A’ students are turned away from medical school every year.
UKIP will lift the cap on medical school training places from 7,500 to 10,000 and make sure no suitable ‘A’ grade student fails to get a place. Provided medical students commit to working within the NHS for at least ten out of the fifteen years after they qualify, we will cover the cost of all their tuition fees (18-19)

This policy ignores the measures already in place to expand medical student numbers, but this is an area where it is notoriously hard to grow capacity quickly.

While 3 A grade A levels has been necessary for some time for acceptance to medical school it is not sufficient.  Being a doctor is about much more – hence their more extended selection process. Intrigued how UKIP will determine ‘suitability’ to allow all of them to get places?

The NHS needs 24,000 more nurses and 3,500 more midwives, yet again potential students are being turned away, tens of thousands of them every year.
UKIP will increase the number of nurse training placements, reinstate funding for bursaries to cover nursing, midwifery and allied health professions’ tuition and accommodation costs, and cover the cost of  re-training for nurses who have taken career breaks. (19)

We wait to see how changing from a contracting system to an uncapped student number system is going to work out.  There were more applicants than places, but just as with doctors, nursing education is selective.  Contracts meant Universities had to be very clear on recruiting people who would succeed – that’s what they were contracted to do.  A student loan system might open that up.

A key reason for moving to loans was to reduced pressure on Health budgets – going to uncapped places & bursaries would be expensive.

The average student debt is £44,000. The poorest students who are now denied a grant fare worst of all, with debts averaging £53,000. These debts are often pointless in career terms: the latest figures from the ONS show 46 per cent of new graduates will not find a job needing a degree. The taxpayer fares badly too. Only around half of the money spent on tuition fee loans will be paid back.
The quota system promoted by both Labour and Conservatives is not a good enough reason for taxpayers to pay for students to go to university. Students would be better off following another route into the workplace than taking degrees that are unlikely to help them get a job or guide them onto their chosen  career path.
The politically motivated decision to increase university places has deceived and blighted a generation. UKIP will stop paying tuition fees for courses which do not lead at least two thirds of students into a graduate level job, or a job corresponding to their degree, within five years after graduation. We will also cease offering EU nationals student loans when we leave the EU. Repayment rates are extremely low and 10,000 EU students currently owe Britain £89 million. (25)
UKIP’s long-term goal is to abolish tuition fees entirely and we will seek to enact this as soon as economic conditions allow. Meanwhile, to help the poorest students now, we will immediately restore maintenance grants.
To plug the skills gap in these areas, UKIP will abolish tuition fees for undergraduate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students, provided they work in their discipline and pay tax in the UK for at least five years after they complete their degree. We will cover the cost of all tuition fees for medical students, provided they commit to working within the NHS for at least ten out of the fifteen years after  they qualify. (25)

UKIP falls into line with the Labour and Green parties in wanting to abolish fees, although they clearly don’t want as many students to go into higher education.

They’ve never avoiding saying that too many people are going into higher education, and have been fixated by Tony Blair’s supposed 50% target. Never mind that Blair hasn’t been PM for a while now, or that 50% quickly got some important caveats, this is at the heart of their problem.  The move to a mass HE system is clearly a problem for them and UKIP have threatened courses and whole institutions before.

Here they propose a grim system whereby the tenuous evidence of causation of previous cohorts of students will be applied to the fee status of future cohorts.  Assuming this will be based on courses in individual universities, if the class of 2015 fail to obtain sufficiently graduate jobs in, say, law, then the intake in 2021 won’t have their fees paid.  Given the differences between courses or demographics – this will produce wild variations with an extraordinary cliff-edge for individual courses.

We need an educated work-force.  For a party that seems content to model education policy on the 1950s, they should take a look at the nature of work (if that’s really the only goal of higher education) and wonder why this fantastic proliferation of studies has happened?  It’s a response to the complexity of our world.  Both in ‘vocational’ and ‘non-vocational’ degrees, we have so much more to understand and manage.

Finally, the systems they propose for ‘abolishing’ STEM fees or forgiving Medical fees would need a really complex system to manage.  The student must incur the liability, which must then be waived by 5 years (STEM) or 10 years (medicine) work.  Who decides which jobs qualify?  As an example, if the medicine version doesn’t include university work it will remove clinicians from medical research – surely not the aim?

Operated on a strict principle of non-discrimination between peoples of all nations applying for work, study, or to visit the United Kingdom, our new International Visa System will begin on the date we leave the EU and offer four principal visa categories: …
3. STUDENT VISAS We want to encourage students to study in Britain, but will not tolerate abuse of the system. (33)

Worth ending on a happy note. UKIP want to encourage international students. No talk of caps or quotas.
You could argue that in 2015 UKIP pulled the Conservatives towards their policies by their share of the vote – examples are Brexit, of course, but also grammar schools.  That’s less likely in 2017.  But each party threatens some form of review of HE funding, and UKIP shows the More Means Worse argument is still alive and kicking.


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