Government to scrap 50% of young to university target

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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is to scrap a commitment to get 50% of England’s young people into university, which was reached for the first time last year.

He is also promising a German-style further education system with a focus on higher technical qualifications.

Tony Blair set the target over 20 years ago to boost social mobility.

But Mr Williamson says university education is not always what the individual or the nation needs.

Last week the Universities Minister Michelle Donelan attacked England’s universities for “dumbing down” and “recruiting too many young people on to courses that do nothing to improve their life chances”.

But the head of the University Alliance, Vanessa Wilson, said these were “unsubstantiated claims” that failed to understand students’ ambitions for going to university and that the minister had provided no evidence to show that courses were “low value”.

In a speech, hosted by the Social Market Foundation, Mr Williamson called time on the notion that university education is better then further education.

German-style system

He suggested it was wrong to drive half of all young people down a path which can mean they do not end up with the skills they need to find meaningful work.

He highlighted figures suggesting a third of graduates end up in non-graduate jobs, despite often paying fees of £9,250 per year.

He said: “Our universities have an important role to play in our economy, society and culture, but there are limits to what we can achieve by sending ever more people into higher education, which is not always what the individual or the nation needs.”

“That’s why this autumn I will be publishing a White Paper (government plans) that will set put to build a world-class, German style further education system in Britain, and level up skills and opportunities.

“As we emerge from Covid-19, further education will be the key that unlocks this country’s potential and that will help make post-Brexit Britain the triumph we all want.”

‘Second class citizens’

The German further education system, with its emphasis on high quality technical education and apprenticeships is often help up as an ideal system. In Germany, a fifth of adults aged 18-65 hold higher technical qualifications.

In England, the percentage is half that, and there has long been a divide between academic and vocational qualifications which has seen skills-based education as second class, despite numerous attempts to change that.

And the further education system has long been funded at a lower level than higher education.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, which represents 95% of colleges, said: “Our current system simply does not support the half of adults who don’t get the chance to study at higher levels.

“In fact it relegates them to second class citizens, without the investment and the opportunities to improve their life chances.”

He added that for too long the nation had been fixated on a target set in a different era.

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