As the Conservative Party Conference draws to a close in Birmingham, Martin McQuillan considers a torrid few days for universities – as the party spent a week lining up a nightmare vision for before and after Brexit.
On the face of it, the Conservatives should be looking forward to discussing higher education at their party conference in Manchester next week. As we will no doubt hear, the numbers of full time students starting this year look to have bounced back to somewhere close to 2010 levels. The controversial reforms to tuition fees look a lot less problematic today – and unlike other areas of public sector reform (Universal Credit, the NHS) the political narrative appears (for the conservatives at least) to have a happy ending. But ideological tensions in the Conservative Party over these issues are becoming ever-more exposed. Andy Westwood attempts to pick them apart as the party begins to gather in Manchester, in the final instalment of his series on this year’s party conferences.
Last week’s furore over Michael Gove’s ‘leaked’ plans to abolish GSCEs and bring back the O Level was an interesting moment for the education policy community who largely thought they had plumbed the depths of their disdain for the Education Secretary. But higher education should be worried, because Gove has only increased his political capital over the last week and could be preparing to bring his policy horror show to a university near you.
The Coalition Government is in terminal decline. Its sense of purpose has dissipated and internal politics threaten to derail the whole enterprise. The higher education policy circus that came to town in 2010 reflects more than ever the tensions within the Coalition and the bizarre, inconsistent and occasionally bad policy-making that stems from this faltering political arrangement. The Coalition’s expiry date is May 2015, and despite the entire Government machine fixing its sights on that date, things may fall apart before then.