The New Conservatives, a group of socially conservative Tory MPs made up predominantly from members elected to the Commons post-Brexit, have proposed encouraging a greater number of apprenticeships, claiming that too many young people are needlessly pursuing academic degrees.
In its latest report, launched yesterday and titled “The New Conservative Plan for Skills,” the group defended proposals to restrict access to student loans, arguing that this move aims to bolster apprenticeships. The MPs assert that individuals with low grades might face difficulties in academic programs.
The report, coauthored by MPs Jonathan Gullis and Lia Nici, both senior members of the New Conservatives, calls on the government to address concerns about universities potentially exploiting the aspirations of young individuals, who may not benefit from the traditional university system. The report also criticises universities for allegedly promoting left-wing ideology among graduates.
Responding to the report, a Labour spokesperson said, “Tory factions continuing to argue like cats in a sack is just more evidence that only Labour can take our country forward.”
Mr. Gullis dismissed these comments and others made by Labour as a “sneer.” The Labour Party had claimed that the New Conservatives were intent on blocking young people from higher education.
Among various recommendations, the report suggests that students who fail to meet minimum educational standards, such as passing GCSE maths and English or obtaining three Es at A-level or equivalent qualifications, should be ineligible for student loans.
Currently, there are no specific grade requirements for accessing financial support.
The report argues that students with the lowest grades often pursue degrees that lead to lower-paying jobs, raising questions about the value of their education. It specifically mentions creative arts, performing arts, and communications courses as potentially not delivering sufficient return on investment for taxpayers.
The New Conservative MPs also propose implementing a minimum monthly repayment of £45 for student loans for those who do not meet the existing salary threshold. However, exemptions would be made for NHS workers and other specified categories.
Proposals to Save £1.8 Billion
These proposed changes are projected to save £1.8 billion annually, funds that could be reinvested to establish an apprenticeship system modelled after Germany’s successful program, where a significantly higher percentage of young people complete vocational training compared to the UK.
Responding to a question by The Epoch Times at the report’s launch event, Mr. Gullis said that the Conservative Party is “going into the next election with a broad, exciting manifesto” that keeps the “dynamism” that was seen in the Red Wall swing of 2019, as the Tories rode the wave of the Brexit vote.
He added that the group would be very happy to see the prime minister take their ready-made policy proposals and insert them into the manifesto ahead of next year’s anticipated general election.
Mr. Gullis said: “This is not about us, this is about the Conservative Party winning because we believe we’re the best party.
“So we may look after the country because we actually have the ideas and the fortitude.”
Ms. Nici emphasised that the group’s aim is not to ban people from attending university but rather to provide individuals with a genuine choice between university and apprenticeship pathways.
She highlighted concerns that the current system encourages too many students to pursue low-value courses, leading to diminished prospects for young people.
The New Conservatives, which are advised by long-standing Tory MP Sir John Hayes, have been gaining support within the right wing of the party and recently called for restrictions on visas for students and care workers, potentially challenging Cabinet proposals.
Nonetheless, the group today affirmed its support for the prime minister and its belief that the Conservative Party benefits from open debates on policy ideas.
Ms. Nici stressed that the faction is