Further education


Like schools, we would make all universities and colleges independent. Their teaching activities would be funded by fees paid by students, some of which would be funded by central government.

The government would fund the number of places in each subject that it judges necessary to maintain elite capabilities in all subjects, and to provide sufficient graduates in vocational subjects to meet the needs of the economy. In each subject, the students with the highest scores in their A-level exams (or equivalent) would receive funding, upto the number of students in the subject that the government had committed to fund.

The system would apply equally to vocational subjects at further-education colleges as to academic subjects at university. We need more plumbers than we need nuclear physicists.

Universities and colleges would be free to determine their fees for each subject. The level of funding provided to each student in a particular subject would be the weighted average of the fees charged to all students in that subject for a place on their selected course. Students choosing cheaper courses would enjoy a surplus, and students choosing expensive courses would need to find ways to fund the difference (use some of their Basic Income, student loans, part-time work, or whatever).

This would maintain pressure on universities to price their courses as competitively as possible - students may be reluctant to apply for courses that are significantly more expensive than the average. Higher fees would have to be justified by a superior offering that students judge is worth the unfunded difference. Students would have significantly more power than at present to press universities to raise the standards of their educational offerings.

Those who did not achieve the results needed to obtain funding for their preferred course would still be able to go to university or college on a similar basis to present. They would have to raise their own funds, whether through a student loan, part-time work, delaying until they have sufficient savings, parental support, or whatever. The middle-class rite-of-passage would remain available to those who could support it, but would not be experienced at other taxpayers' expense.

Funding would not cover the costs of accommodation, travel and sustenance. The Basic Income should be sufficient to cover those costs, whether funded or not. Those without funding would therefore only need to raise funds for fees, not for accommodation as well.

A significant number of students, particularly in vocational subjects, would leave college encumbered by very much less debt than in recent times. The cost would be contained by limiting the numbers in the way described. Partly because student fees are currently capped, there is still substantial public funding for the teaching activities at university, even though students nominally pay the fees themselves via student finance. There would be no reason for this public funding to continue under the proposed system. The cost of funding the selected students could be covered, at least partly, by this saving.

It is likely that exposure to tuition fees determined by colleges rather than the government will reduce the total number of students entering university, particularly in the non-vocational courses, although it is possible that this risk will hold down the costs of these courses and maintain the levels of demand. Exposure to the costs may well result in a reduced appetite for full-time courses, and an increased appetite for part-time courses.

Further education could come to be seen increasingly as something that people carry on in parallel with their career, rather than in advance of a career. Any dissolution of the gap between education and real life, and introduction of real-world experience into the classrooms (particularly in the social sciences and humanities) would represent a significant step forward in our attitude to education. Education could increasingly be delivered on a decentralized, part-time basis, through evening and holiday classes taken by experts to the communities, using the under-utilised facilities of local schools.


The government would continue to fund university research. The funding would be targeted primarily at the sorts of blue-sky/non-commercial areas that broaden our understanding of the world. This sort of research sometimes yields important spin-off commercial opportunities, but requires public support because the likelihood of commercial application is insufficient to find support in the market. Commercial research and development should be funded by the businesses that hope to benefit from it.

The intellectual property (IP) in the research and in any potentially-commercial applications that arise from it would lie with the government that funded it, not with the researchers. As British taxpayers paid for it, the government would make the IP freely available for exploitation by any British company. The researchers would have a know-how advantage, which they could exploit by selling their services, or by setting up a company to exploit the IP. Or they could leave commercial exploitation to businessmen and move on to another area of blue-sky research.