Proposed new law would strengthen powers of independent higher education regulator

Rishi Sunak has promised to fund 100,000 more apprenticeships by scrapping poor quality university courses if the Conservatives win the upcoming general election.

The prime minister has accused universities of “ripping young people off” by offering so-called “Mickey Mouse” courses that do not increase their long-term earning potential.

One in eight degree places could be removed under a new law which would strengthen the powers of the Office for Students (OfS), the independent regulator of higher education in England.

Sunak 0524

Rishi Sunak said poor quality degrees were ‘ripping off’ young people

The OfS already cracks down on courses deemed to be low quality using measurements including graduate earnings and student drop-out rates.

The new legislation would empower the body to go further and completely close the poorest-performing university courses.

The Conservative Party estimates the move could save the government £910m by 2030 because the taxpayer “offsets” student loans when graduates do not earn enough money to pay them back.

Most of this money would be channelled into creating 100,000 more apprentices a year by the end of the next Parliament.

>> Also read: Construction among sectors targeted by government jobs ‘bootcamp’ plan

>> Election focus 2024: policy tracker

Announcing the policy this morning, Sunak said apprenticeships were now of a much higher quality than some “rip-off degrees”.

“Improving education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet for boosting life chances so it’s not fair that some university courses are ripping young people off,” he said.

“Now we will create 100,000 more [apprenticeships] offering our young people the employment opportunities and financial security they need to thrive.”

Labour criticised the government over a decline in the number of new apprentices and said it would “gear” apprenticeships towards young people while making universities “engines for growth” by supporting spin-outs and collaborations.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson accused the Conservatives of having presided over a halving of apprenticeships for young people, adding: “Why on earth should parents and young people believe they’ll create training opportunities now, after 14 years of failing to deliver opportunities for young people and the skills needed to grow our economy?”

She said Labour would create a new growth and skills levy to “provide the skills businesses need” and build a new generation of technical colleges by working with employers and universities.


Election-focus-final-logov2 (1)

With the UK set for a general election on 4 July, the country is facing some serious problems.

Low growth, flatlining productivity, question marks over net zero funding and capability, skills shortages and a worsening housing crisis all amount to a daunting in-tray for the next government.

This year’s general election therefore has very high stakes for the built environment and the economy as a whole. For this reason,

Building’s election coverage aims to help the industry understand the issues and amplify construction’s voice so that the parties hears it loud and clear.