The centrepiece of the Conservative Party’s education policy is a new Education Act, which will reduce the role of politicians in the education system. Local authorities would be put in control of their overall budget for their area and councils would be responsible for the administration of catchments areas and school infrastructure.
The Tories would hold a ‘root and branch’ review of higher and further education funding. They have indicated that they do not oppose the idea that students should contribute to the cost of their education but would consider the effectiveness of commercialising the student loan book to expand the financial assistance available.
All ‘unnecessary central direction’ to universities would be ended.
The immediate concern is a financial one. The introduction of top-up tuition fees in England has opened up a new revenue stream for them which Scottish universities simply cannot match. The gap is large and increasing, and it is putting the financial security of our institutions at significant risk. In response, Conservatives will hold a root and branch review, with a commission investigating the future funding of both our universities and our colleges.
Our commission would investigate the issue of student debt and finance. We would ask it to consider the effectiveness of commercialising the student loan book in order to expand the amount of financial assistance available for students. We do believe that there are great benefits derived from the possession of a degree. A person’s earning potential can be expected to disproportionately inflate in comparison to someone who has not been to university. Therefore, we do not have any particular difficulty with the idea of a student contributing towards the cost of their education. The ability of a person – regardless of their background – to borrow as much money as they need to complete their course, safe in the knowledge that the earnings threshold for paying back their loan would be set much higher than it is at present, is the basis of a sound system for student finance.
The second major issue facing our universities is their autonomy from the government. Politicians are too quick to interfere in the governance of universities and colleges. It is utterly unacceptable, because the independence of governance of these institutions is the very reason why they continue to thrive. We shall end all unnecessary central direction and interference in their activities.
Our approach to education at all levels is straight-forward. The less political interference, and the more professional autonomy, the better. We will put this into practice.