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Party conferences (so far...)

Monday 12-10-2015 - 09:15

Your summary of all the main events to date:

Lib Dem Conference

Former Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes, told Lib Dem conference that university towns were key to the Lib Dem revival. He stated that their commitment to raising fees in the Coalition was one of the three big mistakes they made in government, the others being not opposing the bedroom tax and the reorganisation of the NHS. He argued that cost of living was the biggest threat facing students today.

However, Tim Farron, their new leader, was unapologetic about their time in government and failed to bring up the issue of tuition fees.

Labour Conference

The new shadow universities minister, Gordon Marsden, appeared at a fringe organised by NUS, million+ and LabourList. He was keen to state that Labour were “reviewing” their HE policies and were not expecting to make and early commitments until the policy review had finished.

He also said the Labour were going to ensure the government were held to account over their upcoming green paper which will include plans on the Teaching Excellence Framework. He said that Labour “will make sure that the debate about teaching quality does not become a trojan horse for fee increases or creating an apartheid between universities that teach and universities that research”.

Marsden, who also holds the FE brief for Labour, also criticised the government’s “Soviet-style five-year plan” targets for apprenticeships, which prioritises numbers over quality and progression opportunities. He was especially concerned at the drop in apprentice completion rates.  Nic Dakin, Shadow Schools Minister, criticised the government’s latest plans for reorganisation of FE colleges: “These hastily put together area reviews have all the ingredients of being yet another Conservative Government shambles”.

At a fringe event organised by NIACE and the Association of Colleges, National Society of Apprentices member Amelia Kury highlighted the poor pay for entry level apprenticeships and the lack of careers information, advice and guidance in schools to encourage young people to think about taking them instead of going into higher education.

Conservative Conference

University Alliance, GuildHE and BrightBlue organised a fringe event at Conservative Party Conference titled University: is it worth it? Former HE minister David Willetts spoke at the event of how he believed £9k fees still represented good value for students and criticised some of his party colleagues for saying that too many people are going to university.

In her conference speech, Home Secretary Theresa May made some rather worrying comments around international students, calling for rules to be “enforced” to ensure students return to their home countries when their visas expire. She criticised universities for not enforcing the rules and claimed she doesn’t care what the “university lobbyists” say. There was no mention of students in net migration targets; May has apparently fallen out with the Prime Minister over her position to keep students in the targets.

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, put great stress on the government’s plans to “go further” in creating more apprenticeships. Nick Boles, Minister for Skills, suggested that apprentices should be signed up to give careers advice to school leavers and to promote the value of apprenticeships to young peers in order to encourage their take-up.

At a fringe event organised by NIACE and the Association of Colleges, NUS NEC and National Society of Apprentices member Poppy Wolfarth highlighted the continued pay gap between different apprentice disciplines and between genders, saying “apprentices aren’t just there to be used and abused”.

NUS organised a fringe event with million+ and ConservativeHome. HE minister Jo Johnson spoke at the fringe about the upcoming Green Paper that his department will publish on proposals for a Teaching Excellence Framework. He said that there was still too much variation in the quality of the student experience. He called for students to be protected when institutions withdraw provision due to competitive pressures. He also alluded to the fact that widening participation measures would feature in the TEF. 

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