A Tory minister showed not only that a contentious government plan has no basis in fact, but also that there is no political talent in the government – as he fell apart live on Good Morning Britain (GMB) when questioned over a controversial new policy on university caps.
University caps: putting a value on education
The limits will be imposed on courses that have high dropout rates or a low proportion of graduates getting a professional job.
Rishi Sunak’s government is doing this in response to a review launched by former PM Theresa May. Sky News noted that:
Among the report’s recommendations – which also included cutting tuition fees and more funding for further education – was an aim to reduce the number of “low value” courses leaving students with poor job prospects.
Predictably, the government has broadly ignored the cutting tuition fees recommendation – except for classroom-based foundation degrees. However, what the Tories have latched onto is stopping so many students going to university. As the Guardian reported:
The policy will limit student applications in England for the first time since the government scrapped the previous institutional numbers cap in 2015, which set off a surge in applications to selective universities.
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Of course, people have kicked off about the plan. Some professionals in higher education have said the policy will hit marginalised students the hardest. Meanwhile, University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Jo Grady told iNews:
This shows how wrong Tory government’s priorities are. If they get their way only the richest students would be able to study cultural subjects.
Sunak was able to study philosophy, the Tory government should stop trying to deny working class people the same opportunities.
It is clear they have misunderstood the value of learning and the value our members add to society.
With a backlash from the university sector, you’d think education secretary Gillian Keegan would be on TV to defend her government’s plans. However, that would take some semblance of a backbone. So instead, the Tories shoved education minister Robert Halfon on – and as quickly as he arrived he began falling apart.
Halfon: car crash 101
Halfon waffled for what seemed like 10 minutes (but was actually 30 seconds) before host Susanna Reid interrupted him – reminding the minister he hadn’t actually answered her question, which was:
which degrees are you going to cap?
Halfon said it was:
those courses that have poor-quality outcomes.
Reid asked what the definition of a “poor-quality outcome” was. Utterly predictably, the minister couldn’t give a quantifiable answer. He said the courses were those where:
a student doesn’t progress to a good job… [or] doesn’t continue the course… or complete their course.
Co-host Richard Madeley asked Halfon to define a “good job”. The minister had a remarkable answer, showing his keen insight into the complex world of educational outcomes:
if people are doing degrees they should get good jobs at the end.. but there are too many students not getting those jobs… who aren’t completing… dropping out…
So, the Tory definition of a “good job” is a ‘good job’, then. Glad Halfon cleared that up:
'There are too many students not getting [good] jobs, too many students who aren't completing, too many students who are dropping out of courses.' – Education Minister.
Under new Govt plans, universities will be forced to limit the number of students they enroll in… pic.twitter.com/aZP4HNmLCM
— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) July 17, 2023
Behind the university caps word soup
The minister’s word-soup-with-a-side-of-alphabet-salad responses exposed the problems at the heart of the Tories’ plan. For example, as Sky News reported, the courses with the highest drop-out rates were:
- Computer science
- Business and administrative studies
- Engineering and technology
- Mass communications and documentation
- Creative arts and design
But hold up. Sunak himself has in the past 18 months:
- Launched a review into the UK’s “advanced computing capabilities“
- Told small businesses he want them to “thrive and grow“
- Said that the UK will be a “science and technology superpower“
Admittedly, the Tories will probably quite happily stifle “mass communications” (namely journalism) and the “creative arts” – given their respective wars on both. But the government also wants to cap three degrees which directly tie into Sunak’s claims.
Of course, the Tories’ plan to cut uni courses is in tandem with their push on further (vocational) education. But they could do both. And moreover, this doesn’t address Halfon’s other claims about “poor-quality outcomes” linked to some degrees. For example, Sky News reported that:
five years after graduation… in the UK, medicine and dentistry had a median graduate earning of £52,900, whereas performing arts stood at £21,200.
Once again, the Tories will be attacking the arts. However, this is not a performing arts degree problem. This is a capitalism problem where people in the creative sectors are not paid enough – like many people doing degrees:
Worth noting that this presents the degree as to blame for the rise in student debt & poverty, the mass wage suppression & precarious work lives caused or enhanced by this Govt’s own policies. Come on! https://t.co/qsMxoMvN1E
Tory class war continues
The minister’s catastrophic interview – repeating ‘good jobs’ and ‘poor-quality outcomes’ until he nearly blew his sphincter – sums up the state of the government. The Tories are allegedly running the country while having some of the most stupid ministers in government of recent times.
Halfon is a prime example: unable to deviate from his press release (ironically written by someone possibly with a degree in mass communications), he falls apart when even GMB‘s warm and fluffy corporate hacks do some primary school questioning of him:
When even Richard Madeley can demolish you in an interview, you are probably talking absolute shite. https://t.co/nyyp97FzIz
— Toby Starbuck (@StarbuckToby) July 17, 2023
Most importantly though – and as always – if you pick away at what a Tory minister says and move past the jargon and buzz words, the reality becomes apparent: that the government’s cap on uni courses is class war:
Except that he could not name one single course that this related to.
This is class war and social control by stealth
The rich get educated and the well paid employment – you work to keep the rich rich#ToriesOut375 #SunakOut265 #GeneralElectionNow https://t.co/tngeyqSmmw
— dave lawrence 🐟🐟🐠 (@dave43law) July 17, 2023
Not that any of this is new. From disabled people to energy prices via housing – at the heart of successive governments’ agendas has been the battering of poor and marginalised people. Stopping us going to university, therefore keeping us out of well-paying jobs, and stopping us learning, is part of the same pattern.
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