Commenting on the speech (Wednesday 24 November 2021) by Higher and Further Education Minister Michelle Donelan MP, Deborah Lawson, Community Union Assistant General Secretary (Voice Community education section), said:
“We broadly welcome the measures announced to support disadvantaged students and to remove barriers to post-graduate research for Black, Asian and minority ethnic students.
“Different parts of the education sector working together to support students is to be welcomed.
“However, we are concerned by the implied criticism of education standards in schools and colleges. We are interested to know how universities will work with schools and colleges to enhance standards.
“Not all ‘high skilled jobs’ are necessarily ‘high paid’ – including many, like teaching, in the public sector and others of social value in caring professions, conservation and other ‘green’ jobs. Again, there is an implication that a university education is only of value if it leads to a high paid job.
“The burden of future student loan repayments can also be a major disincentive for students from lower income backgrounds.
“The speech refers to students getting ‘better qualifications’ and having ‘more options’, yet the Government has reduced the number of qualifications available, decoupled AS and A levels, removed coursework options and added the constraints of the EBacc.
“The pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of a system based wholly on terminal examinations.
“The Government should take a more radical approach and review and consult on the whole assessment system, including a range of assessment methods such as online, coursework, and practical assessments rather than just written exams.
“Now that education or training continues until 18, we question the value and purpose of GCSE subject exams at 16.”