This week, the Prime Minister has announced a review of post-18 education and funding. She also warned against an outdated attitude that favours academic over technical qualifications, and called for parity of esteem between university and vocational options.
The review will examine the whole system of post-18 education and funding, including how students and graduates contribute to the cost of their studies, so that it serves the needs of all young people. It will focus on choice, value for money and fair access, and consider how we can ensure that young people develop the skills employers need.
Whilst I know it is a big financial step for anyone to enter higher education, the Government has recognised this and taken steps to ensure that the most disadvantaged students are able to repay their loans in an affordable manner. That is why the Prime Minister announced at the Conservative Party Conference that the minimum earnings threshold for repaying a loan taken out after 2012 will rise to £25,000. This means no one will need to pay back a penny until they have a stable financial footing, and even then, payments will only increase in line with earnings.
The latest UCAS data show that in 2017, disadvantaged 18-year-olds were 50 per cent more likely to enter full-time higher education than in 2009. Also, 22.6 per cent of disadvantaged English 18 year olds applied to higher education by the UCAS deadline in January, meaning that disadvantaged English 18-year-old are also more likely to apply to university than ever before. This is amazing progress and I am very proud of what has been achieved so far.
When you compare this progress to the backwards sliding of disadvantaged students in the Scottish higher education system, who operate a system of state funded higher education (and the caps on places it brings), it is clear that tuition fees have had a positive effect on the quality and availability of higher education.
The review will be wide ranging and its Chair, Philip Augar, a leading author and former non-executive director of the Department for Education, will be examining how we can ensure that people from disadvantaged backgrounds have an equal chance to succeed. The review will consider how disadvantaged students and learners receive maintenance support, both from Government and universities and colleges.