Tony Blair calls for seven in 10 young people to go to university
Tony Blair calls for seven in 10 young people to go to university: Ex-Labour PM says rise from 53% to 70% is key to UK competing with ‘high-innovation economies’ like South Korea and Japan
- The former Prime Minister set a 50 per cent target during his leadership in 1999
- It came amid concern those with low ability would undertake unsuitable courses
- But a report from The Blair Institute has called for a 70 per cent target by 2040
- It says reaching target would boost economy and increase productivity growth
- But chef Raymond Blanc says students ‘better off’ applying for apprenticeships
Tony Blair has called for seven in 10 young people to go to university – saying a rise from 53 per cent to 70 per cent is key to the UK competing with ‘high-innovation economies’ like South Korea and Japan.
The former Prime Minister, 68, set a target of 50 per cent during his leadership in 1999 amid concern from critics that it would lead to those with low academic ability undertaking unsuitable courses.
There were also questions over whether the graduate job market could support so many people, with a large number of students ending up in non-professional jobs.
But Blair now wants to see the figures rise further over the next two decades to tackle the UK’s productivity crisis.
It would see the number of young people in further education increase to 60 per cent by 2030 and up to 70 per cent by 2040, The Times reports.
Analysis in a report by the Tony Blair Institute this week has found that reaching the figure would boost the economy by five per cent over the next generation by ‘significantly’ increasing the rate of productivity growth.
Record numbers of students were accepted into their first choice university in August last year, despite Covid significantly impacting results, while the UK reached the 50 per cent landmark for the first time in 2019.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of The Sutton Trust, warned the taxpayer would end up footing the bill for a lot of student loans as he said ‘too many kids are going to university’.
Celebrity chef Raymond Blanc also said students would be ‘better off’ applying for apprenticeship schemes.
Tony Blair (pictured) set a target of 50 per cent in 1999 amid concern from critics that it would lead to those with low academic ability undertaking unsuitable courses
Record numbers of students were accepted into their first choice university in August last year, despite Covid significantly impacting results
He said: ‘Mr Tony Blair is saying that seven out of 10 teenagers should go to university. I say that as many would do better to sign for an apprentiship (sic). Never so many crafts, industries have been so short of staff …definately (sic) true to our industry.’
But the targets do have the backing of Lord Johnson – brother of the Prime Minister and the former universities minister.
In a foreword to the report, he said: ‘We still don’t have enough highly skilled individuals to fill many vacancies today. And as we continue to mature as a knowledge economy, more jobs will be generated in sectors that disproportionately employ graduates.
‘High-innovation economies, like South Korea, Japan and Canada, understand this and have boosted higher education; participation rates in these countries are already 60 per cent and 70 per cent.’
The new report also says the government are sceptical over the importance of higher education, with former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson previously describing Blair’s 50 per cent target as an ‘absurd mantra’.
The report adds: ‘The country faces a set of profound economic challenges in the years ahead that will require many more highly skilled workers possessing a combination of the technical and “soft” skills that higher education is best able to provide.’
The report has the backing of Jo Johnson, brother of the Prime Minister, who says ‘we still don’t have enough highly skilled individuals to fill many vacancies today’
Will Tanner, director of think tank Onward, said the target was misguided as half of students are ending up in non-graduate roles.
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, has also previously spoken out about encouraging students to opt for apprenticeships over degrees.
He has also called for ‘shift in culture’ in which employers invest more in people.
RIvert Halfon, Tory chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, said there should instead be a 50 per cent target for students to do degree apprenticeships in which they can ‘earn while you learn’ with the ‘guarantee to get a good job at the end’.
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