The HE Bite: 6th October – The Conservative Party Conference in Manchester
Theresa May took her Conservative MPs to Manchester, for their annual conference. We’ve put together a conference roundup, focused on the Higher Education sector. Here is everything you need to know…
Rumours of a Higher Education funding review have been hanging over the sector. At a fringe meeting during the Conservative conference in Manchester, Jo Johnson discussed the perils of using the “terminology of debt and loans,” in conversations around the theme of student finance. His reply to questions on the matter, at another fringe event (chaired by Times Higher Education editor John Gill), was vague on the details of what a review would look like for the sector.
However, Johnson clearly conveyed his views on “fear mongering” when it came to the economic impact of Brexit on the sector, stating that “EU students account for 5% of students in our system, they account for 2% of sector income.” However, moving beyond student mobility, Johnson noted the importance of maintaining strong post-Brexit relationships with Europe when it comes to scientific research partnerships.
The next day, Theresa May reiterated a major review of Higher Education funding. In her address, the Prime Minister used the terminology of loans and debt to contextualise the commitment to the following points she made on the Andrew Marr Show over the weekend:
1) Raising the loan repayment threshold to £25,000 (currently sitting at £21,000).
2) Scrapping the increase in fees due next year (the £250 increase in tuition to £9,500 will not go ahead).
The comments, which were met with commentary over the weekend, were then overshadowed by hiccups during her speech. It is important to note that there is a question mark over party cohesion on this matter. In fact, there has been speculation of tension between the Prime Minister and sector stakeholders. In August, her former chief of staff, Nick Timothy, described tuition fee as an “unsustainable and ultimately pointless ponzi scheme.”
Beyond politics, the conference addressed the importance of accelerated courses (outlined by Jo Johnson during his Universities UK address). The introduction of fast track, two-year degree courses is intended to limit the costs for young people. In doing so, it aims to increase diversity and address the decline of mature students.
Other key education initiatives included the Prime Minister’s continued prioritisation of technical and part-time education.