Labour rules out universities going bust in plans to scrap ‘free market experiment’ on sector

Posted On: 
16th February 2019

A Labour government overhaul of the universities sector would mean institutions could no longer fall into bankruptcy, Angela Rayner will say.

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner is due to address the University and Colleges Union annual conference
Credit: 
Matt Crossick/Matt Crossick/Empics Entertainment

The Shadow Education Secretary will announce plans to "unwind" a series of Conservative reforms to Britain's "not fit for purpose" higher education regulator.

In a speech to the University and Colleges Union’s annual conference she will say that under Labour the Office for Students would be given the power to hand out emergency loans to keep institutions afloat.

Government's universities regulator should step in to curb sky-high bosses' pay, say MPs

University tuition fees 'could be cut to £6,500' after government review

Universities chief calls for ministers to bring back maintenance grants amid diversity criticism

And to ensure there was no rewards for failure, ministers would slap sanctions on those who “regularly” required such intervention.

It comes after Universities Minister Chris Skidmore earlier this week said there was “an expectation” that some providers could “exit the market altogether as a result of strong competition”.

Reports in November of last year suggested that at least three British universities are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

Ms Rayner will say: “These are not profit-making private companies that can simply be left at the mercy of market forces. Ministers cannot simply bury their heads in the sand when we’re faced with losing some of these vital institutions."

“Students would be left with immense uncertainty about their futures and entire communities would lose one of their major academic, economic, and social institutions.”

The party would also end the body's duty to promote competition and instead replace it with an obligation to promote cooperation between universities and the wider education system.

“The Tories have unleashed a failed free market experiment in higher education. They have created a system that goes to the very heart of their ideology – a system where market logic is imposed on public goods and where the forces of competition run rampant at the expense of students, staff and communities,” she will add.  

“The Tories’ obsession with free market dogma has gone too far. Education is a public good and should be treated as such. Our universities are there for all of us.”

The party would also demand “much more” on recorded diversity statistics from universities, ensuring that they are published every year rather than just when the OfS requests them.

The move would force information on students’ ages, disabilities, sexuality and whether they are carers to be made available, on top of the required information on gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background.

Elsewhere the party would require institutions to be validated by a partner institution before they are granted their own degree-awarding powers.

And they would ensure the OfS enforces the party’s policy of a maximum 20:1 pay ratio between the highest and lowest paid members of staff in publicly-funded bodies.

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.