Conservatives promise to close ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees

University courses labeled “Mickey Mouse” degrees attended by one in eight university students are to be closed under a Conservative policy expected to be unveiled today.

The money saved through lower tuition fees will fund an additional 100,000 apprenticeship places a year, an increase of almost a third compared to the total of 340,000 places offered last year.

In an article published in The Telegraph on Wednesday, Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, says: “We will ban fraudulent qualifications so that more students are not lured into courses that do not deliver the results people deserve. Our clear plan will help hundreds of thousands of young people find a path to a financially secure future.

“Many graduates would be better off doing an apprenticeship. Instead of being saddled with debt, apprentices gain real-world experience and earn money while they learn.”

The proposal is another attempt by the Conservatives to upset the general election race, with polls putting Labor around 20 percentage points ahead on average.

The Conservatives promise to change the law to give the Office for Students powers to effectively close low-performing courses.

Reasons for being considered a struggling “Mickey Mouse” course could include a high dropout rate, a poor record of getting graduates into jobs or, a new criterion, a comparatively low level of future earnings.

The Conservatives have said the approach would lead to the closure of courses attended by 13 per cent of a single undergraduate intake, equivalent to around 50,000 students.

They have estimated the savings will be £910 million by the end of the decade. However, they have not named any specific course that would be closed. Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said: “Improving education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet to increasing life chances. So, it is not fair that some university courses are ripping off young people.

“Thanks to our scheme, apprenticeships are of a much better quality than under the Labor Party. And now we will create 100,000 more, ending fraudulent qualifications and giving our young people the employment opportunities and financial security they need to thrive.”

The announcement is the third major policy reveal in the last week, as the Conservatives reduce Labour’s lead in the polls ahead of the July 4 vote.

The other two were compulsory national service, in which 18-year-olds chose to do a year in the army or spend time in more charitable activities, and did not guarantee taxation of the state pension.

The policies appear to be politically aimed at their core voters, and the Conservatives have long touted tax cuts and national security as reasons to back them over Labour.

To date, senior Labor figures have not promised to match any of the policies, accusing the Conservatives of being “desperate” by creating policies on the fly to win over voters.

‘Mickey Mouse’ grades

Sunak has long criticized university course “scams”. Some conservative sources on Tuesday called them “Mickey Mouse” titles.

Conservatives suggest that the introduction of tuition fees and the focus on university attendance under New Labor triggered a growth of expensive, poor quality courses that are not value for money.

The Conservatives created the Office for Students to oversee the sector. He has recently been given the power to limit the number of students who can attend substandard courses.

Currently, three metrics are considered for such decisions: attrition rates between years one and two; course completion percentages; and job prospects for graduates.

A fourth will be added, under this new conservative policy: future earnings. The law will also change to give the Student Office the ability to effectively close courses.

This will be done by determining that courses considered to be of poor quality cannot accept new students. The impact, conservative sources say, will be that, in effect, the course will have to close. Conservative estimates indicate that courses attended by 13 percent of a single cohort of college students will be affected. The additional funding comes from money saved by reducing tuition loans, a quarter of which is never repaid.

The Conservatives estimate that a quarter of affected students will go directly into employment, 50 per cent will undertake internships and 25 per cent will undertake other undergraduate courses.

Ms Keegan said: “There are no limits to where an apprenticeship can take you. Mine took me from a car factory in Kirkby to the Cabinet. When Labor was in power, it pushed an arbitrary target for half of young people to attend university, leading to a boom in low-quality degrees, leaving too many students in debt and with little else. “

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said: “It is ridiculous that the Conservatives, who have presided over halving apprenticeships for young people, are now announcing this. Why should parents and young people believe that they will create training opportunities now, after 14 years of not providing young people with opportunities and the skills needed to grow our economy?


Apprenticeships are no longer a poor relation to degrees

By Gillian Keegan, Education Secretary

An apprenticeship can take you anywhere. It has taken me from the workshop of a car factory to sitting at the Cabinet table. They can be nothing less than transformative.

But sadly, for some, apprenticeships are still considered the poor cousin of a university degree, but nothing could be further from the truth. During the last Labor government, unscrupulous employers branded new employees as apprentices to get their way by paying them less. One large supermarket had a staggering 40 per cent of its workforce classed as apprentices, so it is no surprise that the apprenticeship brand was tarnished under Labour. And because of their arbitrary 50 percent goals, sending your child to college has become a national obsession.

Since we came to power, the Conservatives have created a new skills system from scratch, so today there is apprenticeship in almost 70 per cent of all occupations in our country.

The UK is home to four of the top ten universities in the world and is a source of pride for the nation. But too many college degrees are leaving students worse off. One in five students is poorer as a result of having gone to university than they would be otherwise. That’s not the deal the students signed up for.

My heart goes out to the young people who listen to their parents, do the right thing, and choose a college major that should lead to great jobs. A smart choice that should help them get ahead, but too often it doesn’t. Take computer science for example: graduates can end up among the top earners in just a few years earning £80,000 a year, but for others, their salary after graduating can be as low as £18,000. Worse yet, one in three college graduates ends up working in jobs that don’t require a degree, leaving students saddled with debt and with serious out-of-pocket losses.

As around 40 per cent of those starting their studies this year will not repay their loan in full, it is the taxpayer who ends up footing much of the bill, costing them £1 of every £4 that students borrow for their degrees.

I want to change that. Instead of funneling more and more young people into university courses where results are falling, we will give them the opportunity to choose a different path. That is why last year we announced a package of measures to put an end to low-quality degrees that have poor results. And we reduce the fees that universities can charge for years of in-person training.

Today we go further. We will ban fraudulent degrees so that more students are not lured into courses that do not deliver the results people deserve. Our clear plan will help hundreds of thousands of young people find a path to a financially secure future.

Many graduates would be better off doing internships. Instead of being saddled with debt, apprentices gain real-world experience and earn money while they learn. This approach is already paying dividends for those who have done it. Five years after graduating, higher-level apprentices significantly outperform their graduate counterparts.

And the number of people realizing the huge opportunities is increasing with more than 5.8 million apprentices started since 2010. But I want to go further, and this bold move will do exactly that, for an additional 100,000 apprentices each year by the end of the next parliament.

However, our common sense approach is not shared across the political divide. The last time Labor was in power they did nothing to increase or improve learning. Not to be left behind, Sir Keir Starmer’s policy would halve the number of apprenticeships. The unions will allow big businesses to spend half their apprenticeship levy on other training, but what they haven’t considered is that we already spend 98 per cent of the budget on apprenticeship programmes, with that money supporting our small and medium-sized businesses , one more time. Labour’s ill-considered plans will undo much of the progress we have made to date.

We are already the party of apprentices. Our bold action will be transformative for both young people and the economy, driving a high-wage, highly skilled and more productive labor market. Whether as a financial analyst apprentice, cybersecurity, accountant or wind turbine technician.

There is a clear choice in this election. One party champions opportunities for young people, the other puts partisan politics before the future of the next generation.