Everyone should have the chance to access free education for life.
I have three children and I am very proud of them and their educational achievements. But I know that they, just like the rest of us, are living in a changing world where we all need to have access to education for life in order to cope with changes in the job market.
But how many of us can afford to get a good education nowadays, or access to retrain to get a new job?
Labour believes education should be free. No one should be put off educating themselves for lack of money or through fear of debt.
If we are to improve the life chances of all our children and enhance the nation’s skills’ in order to thrive and succeed, then I believe further education and training is the key. We live in a time where the type of demands for different kinds of skills and the paths of our working lives are changing.
Unlike many generations before us, a particular set of skills and experience no longer guarantees a job for life. To meet these shifting needs, our wider education system has to adapt, and lifelong learning and training will deliver productivity and growth to the whole economy, while transforming the lives of individuals and communities.
The Tories claim to be committed to delivering high-quality training, but they’ve ruthlessly cut funding for FE colleges and reduced entitlements for adult learners. With diminishing numbers of courses and students, the sector has been plunged into crisis.
Labour would introduce free, lifelong education in Further Education (FE) colleges, enabling everyone to upskill or retrain at any point in their life.
In Further Education Labour would:
- Improve careers advice and open up a range of routes through, and back into, education, striking a balance between classroom and on-the-job training, to ensure students gain both technical and soft skills.
- Correct the historic neglect of the FE sector by giving the sector the investment – in teachers and facilities – it deserves to become a world-leading provider of adult and vocational education.
- Restore the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for 16 to 18-year-olds from lower and middle income backgrounds.
- Replace Advanced Learner Loans and upfront course fees with direct funding, making FE courses free at the point of use, including English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses.
- Ensure vocational routes incorporate the service sector as well as traditional manufacturing, working in tandem with our broad industrial strategy to deliver for the whole economy.
As a businessman, I know how important it is that young people coming into the workplace have all the essential skills to guarantee them, and our country, a strong future. I want to see them thrive, grow and benefit. We cannot price them out before they’ve even started!
However, within Higher Education there is a real fear that students are being priced out of university education.
Last year, 2016, saw the steepest fall in university applications for 30 years. Since the Tories came to power, university tuition fees have trebled to over £9,000 a year and maintenance grants have been abolished and replaced with loans.
The average student now graduates from university, and starts their working life, with debts of £44,000. England degree debt is the highest in the English speaking world – The Sutton Trust (a social mobility charity) and yet the government says it is ‘fair and sustainable’.
We used to look at the cost of education in the US and feel lucky that we lived in the UK. But not any more. Now, on average at the end of their degree course US students owe between £20,500 to £25,200 – almost half the UK cost.
Is this any way to start your journey into the adult world of work and your chosen career? Debt is a scourge, the Tory government are constantly telling us we must, as a country, get out of it and yet their very own policies are propelling each successive generation into it. Even putting them off further study altogether. Portsmouth is a university city and I want to see it open to all.
We need to redress this imbalance. We need to invest in our country’s future… it’s our children.
Reintroduce maintenance grants for university students, and abolish university tuition fees. University tuition is free in many northern European countries, and under a Labour government it will be free here too.
Make tuition free not only for those starting courses in September 2017, but also for those already studying now.
Our children are our future and Labour will stand up for them.