For years, the most up to date analysis of UKIP’s higher education policies existed on this site in this popular post by Tom Bailey. With the General Election only 7 months away, UKIP are this week holding their final party conference and so have announced a spate of new policies include those relating to higher education (read them in full here). Those relating just to HE are:
Scrap the target of 50% of school leavers going to university.
Scrap tuition fees for able students pursuing courses in the sciences, technology, maths or medicine
Charge the 70,000 university students from the EU the same amount in tuition fees as foreign students from non-EU countries, raising £600million per year.
Taking in order:
1. Scrapping the 50% target is a pure piece of populism providing an answer to the charge politicians receive on the doorstep (thanks to the Daily Mail et al) that there are too many students. Like it or not, this is a regular theme – and a dangerous one as politicians of all stripes have had to rise above the charge as the three mainstream parties basically understand why higher education is so essential to our society and economy – and even MP’s without any HE in their consistency look enviously at those that do.
However with HE participation rates now reaching 50%, the target has become redundant. Indeed it stopped being part of government rhetoric before the end of the Blair years. So UKIP’s scrapping of a target that no longer exists will have no actual effect. However it does indicate a direction of travel about their priorities towards students and universities and paints an uncomfortable picture.
2. Scrapping tuition fees for able students pursuing courses in the sciences, technology, maths or medicine. Interesting emphasis placed on ‘able’ students – we do not know how they are defining ability. And no answer as to how they reconcile this with point 1 – I suppose they hope that the policy doesn’t increase demand for HE too much or it might send participation rates well over 50% (if the system could ever accommodate them – which it probably can’t right now). So it’s reasonable to assume that UKIP envisage some sort of net reduction in the total number of students.
3. Charge the 70,000 university students from the EU the same amount in tuition fees as foreign students from non-EU countries, raising £600million per year. This currently illegal move would require the UK to leave the European Union as there is no chance other member states would ever tolerate such a drastic exemption for the UK relating to its HE fees. So, not feasible today – but at least consistent with UKIP’s wider ambitions for a Brexit.
Other parts of their new education policies are interesting too – particularly a pledge for a grammar school in every town – a clear pitch to the right of the Conservative Party who have still not forgiven David Cameron, David Willetts and the other Tory modernisers from reversing this deeply-felt part of the Tory cannon. It may also provide some clues as to who UKIP think are ‘able’ to study science, technology, maths or medicine.
Heading towards the election, we may get more detail on these policies and how they will be implemented – although I wouldn’t necessarily hold out much hope. Instead of a programme of government, take these more to be slabs of meat in UKIP’s long campaign to win over more of the right in the UK.
UPDATE: Interestingly, Chris Cook points out that during an interview today, UKIP have also pledged to remove students from the net migration target:
So the UKIP policy on migration is to exclude students from the target. Is that a political full house (excluding govt)? #UKIPConf14
— Chris Cook (@xtophercook) September 26, 2014