"Education, education, education." 18 years ago - if you can believe it - Tony Blair’s first successful political campaign ran on these three words alone. A child born as Blair came to power will now be nearing the end of their secondary schooling and in that time, education as a campaign winner has become all but inconceivable.
This is not because there aren’t still problems to solve: 2014 saw teachers' strikes, postgraduate finances remain a mess, and every qualification in the British education system is routinely accused of an annual dumbing down.
Nor is it because education isn’t attractive to voters: in large part, Nick Clegg owes his position as deputy prime minister to his promise to scrap tuition fees, and it’s thought by some that the student vote could swing the general election this year too.
It’s doubtful, though, that education will be a campaign winner. The 2015 general election must tackle an NHS in crisis, worries over immigration, the raised security levels and the imminent threat of terrorism, all to the backdrop of an economy only just recovering. Education won’t get the hearing it might normally expect.
This means one must be especially wary of politicians using vague educational policies to boost otherwise flagging efforts. It seems that the Conservatives could be heading toward another hung parliament, but they’ll use whatever they can to avoid this. Labour, who were doing quite well through 2014, have flagged lately and the TV debates are unlikely to change that. Education is an easy fallback if some of his other points are missing the mark - or go forgotten.
The only party running with education close to being a priority are the Liberal Democrats - perhaps understandably, as it worked well the last time. Whether Clegg’s broken promise over tuition fees will continue to plague the party remains to be seen. Fool me twice…
There is good reason to be sceptical over each party’s commitment to education,
It’s been reported that the Conservatives have debated whether or not to oppose any rise in tuition fees. This is somewhat unsurprising, given the failures which have followed the changes made to the system in 2012. The Treasury is not recouping as much as it had hoped to. If changes come in, and especially if they are retroactive, yet another generation of students will find the government has let them down - and that bettering their education is fiscally punishing.
Meanwhile, Labour have said they’d like to drop tuition fees to £6,000. This may be a more attractive proposition but it doesn’t mean it is a good one; under the repayment structure, Miliband’s government would inherit, this change would only benefit the highest-earning graduates. This seems rather duplicitous from a party purporting to represent the average citizen, and for that reason it smacks of election rhetoric: "we’re lowering fees" is a wonderful line to win votes for, but it is a cheap ploy if most of those voting for it will never benefit from it.
Ukip have said that, subject to academic performance, they’ll scrap tuition fees for those taking "approved" degrees in science, medicine, engineering, maths and technology. This would be on the condition those students getting these free courses live, work and pay tax in the UK for five years after graduation. All very well, but where is the money coming from? These courses are already subsidised heavily by other courses, and many are already oversubscribed. This sort of policy is idealistic in the extreme. Education is not so politically sensitive as, say, immigration, so policies such as this are an easy way for a party like Ukip to try and show they are perfectly reasonable, after all. Remember, though, it’s easy to make promises you’ll never have to keep.
The Liberal Democrats are promising to demand an extra £10bn from either Labour or the Conservatives for spending on education. This is, though, a Lib Dem promise, so it’s difficult to know what to make of it.
In short, no party seems to have committed the time to come up with a viable policy. We’re presented with headlines, rather than workable solutions, which makes it hard to believe any of the big names are putting their weight behind schooling or universities. Grand statements and idle posturing is all part of the process, but we can’t let it win an election.Reuse content