28 February 2019

  |  CBI Press Team

Update

Don't rob Peter to pay Paul to fund post-18 English education system

Maintain current tuition fee system says CBI Director-General

Don't rob Peter to pay Paul to fund post-18 English education system

CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn will call on the Government to maintain England’s university funding system ahead of the publication of its review into post-18 education.

In a speech at Cambridge Regional College, Carolyn will say that a system that better joins academic and technical education is essential to deliver the high-skilled, high-paid jobs, that fit firms’ needs now and in the future.

But Carolyn will warn that much needed changes to our English further education system should not come at the expense of university funding and the Government must not “rob Peter to pay Paul.”

Carolyn will urge policymakers to:

  • End the political neglect and underfunding of England’s further education system
  • Give people a new entitlement to an extra qualification between an A-Level and a university degree
  • Support universities to offer shorter and more flexible courses to people later in life.

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, will say:

“To meet the needs of a flexible modern economy, the education system itself must become more agile. 

“Often companies succeed because they help their people evolve through education.  Colleges serve these firms brilliantly through running tailored courses, taking employees for short periods of time and teaching them the skills they need for new sets of tasks.

“But sometimes our colleges aren’t given the consideration they deserve.  As a national resource, they’ve been underestimated.  Historically, they’ve been underfunded.  Politically, they’ve been neglected. And frankly, post-Brexit – where education is a rare homegrown source of strength, we shouldn’t be robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

On a new role for colleges and universities, Carolyn will say:

“We’re starting to ask whether colleges could have a new role to play in our education system.  Whether the Government should give people an entitlement to an extra qualification between an A-Level and a university degree.  An apprenticeship, or technical course based at a college. 

“It could be a year when different backgrounds come together and learn skills they might not otherwise. It could be a profound shift in favour of a higher-skilled economy.  Get it right and our colleges might find their roles better recognised and understood. Receiving a new prominence in the lives of our young people and in national life too.

“And when it comes to universities, what if they too could offer the same kind of flexible service as many of our colleges? What if it could become possible, later in life, to return to university to study for a period much shorter than three years.

“The Government should take the idea of flexible university courses seriously, along with the funding mechanisms to support them.”

On university funding, Carolyn will say:

“A cut in tuition fees would do profound harm to our universities, to students and, ultimately, to our economy.

“There are areas in which our country punches far, far above its weight - life sciences, aerospace, financial services and the creative industries.  But just as impressive as any of these is our university sector.  Four of the world’s top 10 universities are British and many more are close behind that top ten.  Per capita, no other country is close.

“Not only do our universities educate people to the highest levels, they are also some of our biggest regional employers, supporters of new businesses and incomparable vehicles of soft power.

“Our universities are a precious national asset. They should be protected and nurtured. A cut in tuition fees would be a gross abrogation of responsibility.

“Firms understand the politics around tuition fees, but they have a message. Focus on the facts.  Our tuition fees system isn’t perfect and the cost of living while studying can be a challenge.  But the one great virtue of the current tuition fees system is how it helps make university accessible to everyone, including students from disadvantaged backgrounds and it’s working.

“England now has greater participation in university among young people from poorer backgrounds than at any time in history.  Yet there’s a real risk here.  If politicians fan the flames of fear about the cost of university, they could end up deterring the very people who could most benefit from university and cause them needless harm.”