Yesterday, I posted some thoughts about what the General Election means for HE and promised to scour (aka quick search for key terms) through the party manifestos to see how they scored against the 4 critical policy areas (as I saw them). I’m giving double weighting to Tuition Fees and Immigration because I think they are the most acute areas of impact for the HE sector.
1) Tuition Fees: I’m looking for stability here. We’ve already seen a steady stream of changes from successive governments. A change in policy would be unwelcome because the current regime appears to be working in terms of student recruitment, but we are yet to see the consequences at the other end because the students paying these fees won’t start to graduate until after the election!
So, the Liberal Democrats have gone for that old trick of not have a policy as such, but proposing to set up a cross-party panel to review the impact of the current regime and to report at some undefined point in the future. Fair play, they set the right criteria for this panel, i.e. to review the support available to students to cover the cost of living while at University.
So, they lose points for not having the courage to stick up for the fees regime they put in place and creating some uncertainty by proposing a review that would take ages and probably not satisfy anyone. They would have got 3/5 for that but, I think the toxicity of this topic for the Lib Dems means that no party will compromise with them on it, so they drop a point to 2 out of 5
2) Research Funding: A clear promise to maintain the ringfence on funding, but also accompanied by a commitment too “double research and innovation spending across the economy”. Whether this means growth in spending for the science budget or more incentives for RD&I, it’s the right message. So, a healthy 4 out of 5.
3) Immigration: The Liberal Democrats have consistently, and to their credit, continued to make a case throughout this parliament that restricting student numbers and including them in the general immigration numbers and policy framework is irresponsible. This is borne out in their manifesto. 5 out of 5.
4) Membership of the EU: The Liberal Democrats understand the value and purpose of the EU to their fingertips. Perhaps a little blind to its flaws sometimes, but that better than being the other way around. This committment is also clear in their Manifesto. If working with Labour, there would be no question of an in/out referendum, with the Conservatives they might let one through but would not allow the features of membership that benefit HE to be touched. So a perfect 5 out of 5.
Overall 23 out of 30 – Labour tomorrow.