Students are being ‘ripped off’ by bad degrees, warns Rishi Sunak

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During the summer 2022 Tory leadership race, Mr Sunak signalled his concerns in this area, vowing to phase out degrees that did not improve students’ “earning potential”.

The reforms announced on Monday tighten the regime overseen by the Office for Students (OfS), which is the independent regulator of higher education in England.

Nearly three in ten graduates do not progress into highly skilled jobs or further study 15 months after graduating, according to the OfS.

Under the plan, the OfS will look at potential earnings as well as other metrics when deciding if a degree does not offer enough value.

The regulator will also be able to cap the number of students who can take a degree deemed low value. Metrics used to make such a decision include how quickly graduates go on to other jobs or study.

The maximum universities can charge for classroom-based foundation year courses will drop from £9,250 to £5,760. Foundation courses are meant to offer a way of getting students to learn the skills or training needed before going to take a full undergraduate course.

The fee cap is not designed to affect foundation years in areas like art, music, engineering, or science subjects, where specific skills are learnt away from the classroom.

‘Cash cows’

Lord Agnew, a former schools minister, recently called foundation courses “dreadful” and warned they were allowing students to “rack up another year’s debt”.

A Whitehall source close to the reforms warned that some were being used as “cash cows” by universities in need of funds.

The Government is also creating a new online resource detailing all the apprenticeships available nationwide and cutting paperwork for businesses to register for an apprentice.

It is expected that the changes – which only apply in England – are unlikely to affect the bulk of courses run by Russell Group universities.

Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Sunak highlights improvements in school standards seen since 2010.

He says: “Now we need to apply that same relentless focus on standards to higher education, too. Of course, we’re proud to have some of the top universities in the world. They equip generations of young people to become the innovators and problem-solvers who break new ground and tackle some of humanity’s greatest challenges – from the Covid vaccine to the promise of nuclear fusion.

“But that’s not the experience for everyone. Too many of our young people are sold a false dream of going to university only to find they’re enrolled on low-quality courses that don’t offer the skills they need to get a decent job at the end of it.”

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