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The Somerset Guardian, 19th July 2023

In the late 1990s, it could be argued that the New Labour higher education programme was a masterclass in public policy. 
In one fell swoop, at least 50% of sixth formers were encouraged to apply for university, instantly lowering any prospective unemployment figures and saddling them with newly introduced tuition fee debt that they would pay back for many years to come. Had a Conservative government attempted such a feat there would, undoubtedly, have been uproar.

Fast forward twenty years and there are thousands of people still paying off university debt. Many are not even using their degrees, disappointed that all that was promised has not materialised and some who were not able to finish are still being charged the full amount.

Whilst for most higher education is a sound investment - with graduates expected to earn on average £100,000 more over their lifetime education – there are, of course, other education routes that should be promoted and explored.

Since 2014/15, there has been a growth in degree-level apprenticeships offering a unique opportunity to combine degree-level study with a job, earning from day one, without the burden of student debt.

Higher technical education, as well as formal apprenticeships for school leavers, enhance students’ skills and career prospects and deserves parity of esteem with undergraduate degrees. This is why the Government has asked the Office for Students to establish a £40m competitive degree apprenticeships fund over the next two years.

Higher education should give students the right skills and knowledge to obtain well-paid jobs. We must shrink the parts of the sector which do not deliver this and ensure that students, their families and taxpayers are getting value for money.

As usual, Labour is trying to make this a class issue. However, what it fails to admit is in its original, dogmatic quest to persuade people into thinking that academia is the only acceptable pathway to success it has done a generation a disservice as well as forgetting to nurture its socialist, working roots. Maybe not such a masterclass after all.

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