At the weekend, 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. Yesterday, I scored the Lib Dem Manifesto, today the Labour party.
1) Tuition Fees: Having set up the Browne review on a cross-party basis before the 2010 General Election, Labour ran a mile when the report was finally published. In fairness, the Conservatives also picked out the bits they liked and ignored the bits they didn’t! When the new £9k fees regime was introduced, Labour made a worthy argument about the need for there to be mixed funding for teaching through student fees and state contributions.
The party has maintained the commitment it made in 2010 to reduce fees to £6k with some flaky commitments to raid pension funds and clamping down on tax avoidance to make up the difference. This will create instability in the sector again as the real fear is that the difference in funding will not be made up; and given that clamping down on tax avoidance is pretty much the catch-all solution to every budget gap, this is a serious prospect! It is also likely that there will be volatility in student recruitment too as applications will plummet for the one or two transitional years while students wait for the new regime to be put in place and then a huge peak in the year that the regime is rolled out, causing chaos in Universities and disappointing a lot of capable students. Yet another reason why stability is the key in this policy area.
I find it a little ironic too that the party has made the case that this policy is necessary because of the debt burden and chosen to pay for it by raiding the pensions of those people who have chosen to save for their retirement rather than build up debts!
Finally, I’m little disappointed that Labour have chosen to ignore the facts on this, more students from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to University than ever before and the rate of growth in those students going to University is growing faster than ever before. They know that going to University is a good investment and they are willing to make the sacrifices to get there.
A poor score here for a cynical policy that rewards the wrong people, ignores the facts and will create instability and turmoil for Universities and students. 1 out of 5
2) Research Funding: There is no commitment to safeguarding research funding in the manifesto. This is disappointing because the previous Labour governments were generous and strategic in supporting the science budget. There is a committment to review the funding framework and introduce a long-term policy framework for science and innovation. On the one hand, this is very welcome because long-term sustainability would be great, but if it leads to funding cuts to a budget that has not grown in real terms for over 5 years, this would be difficult for Universities to absorb.
A balanced 3 out of 5.
3) Immigration: Disappointingly, the party has not followed through in suggestions that it might propose removing international students from the net immigration figures. However, there are some warm words and encouragement for the benefits of immigration and international students are particularly singled out so this signals a change in tone. 3 out of 5.
4) Membership of the EU: Fair play to Ed Miliband, it would have been expedient at some points in this Parliament for him to turn the screws on David Cameron by offering a referendum on EU membership, but a principled case has been made that the UK benefits from EU membership and that no reasonable government should put that at risk. If there’s a Labour (or Labour led) Government, there will be no renegotiation and no In/Out referendum, so a perfect 5 out of 5.
Overall 16 out of 30 – Conservatives tomorrow.