70% of pupils should go on to higher education, Tony Blair says

More pupils going to HE would raise productivity levels across the UK, the former prime minister said.

Catherine Lough
Monday 18 April 2022 13:03
Tony Blair set a 50% target for pupils to enter higher education while in government (Chris Ison/PA)
Tony Blair set a 50% target for pupils to enter higher education while in government (Chris Ison/PA)

Former prime minister Tony Blair is set to call for 70% of young people to go into higher education.

The Times reported that the former prime minister was calling for the proportion of pupils entering higher education to rise to 60% by 2030 and 70% by 2040.

Mr Blair set a 50% target for pupils to enter HE while in government. The current HE entry level for pupils is around 53%.

A report from the Tony Blair Institute, published this week, says that if 70% of young people completed higher education it would “significantly” raise national productivity levels.

The institute’s analysis said reaching this target would raise economic growth by nearly five per cent over the next generation.

We must therefore embark on a multi-parliament drive to raise educational attainment substantially with an eye on the skills our workforce will need not today, but in 20 or 30 years’ time

Tony Blair Institute report

“Far from reaching ‘peak grad’, as some in government argue, we will need many more workers with abilities acquired in HE settings,” the report says.

“We must therefore embark on a multi-parliament drive to raise educational attainment substantially with an eye on the skills our workforce will need not today, but in 20 or 30 years’ time.”

Lord Johnson of Marylebone, the former universities minister and the prime minister’s brother, wrote in the foreword: “We still don’t have enough highly-skilled individuals to fill many vacancies today.”

“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 between 60% and 70%. We cannot afford for policy to remain steeped solely in today’s challenges and our ambition should be to join them.”

The report notes that the Government seems “increasingly sceptical” about the value of universities, with ministers considering measures such as controls on student numbers and minimum entry requirements for university.

The report argues that HE’s expansion has made the UK richer and contributed to economic growth.

“The expansion of higher education over the past generation has become a progressively more important source of prosperity and the mainstay of economic growth since the global financial crisis,” the report says.

“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 HE is best able to provide.”

“Squeezing HE participation, therefore, represents an unambitious skills agenda that will leave Britons unprepared for the economy of the future.”

The report says the Government is “setting up a false choice” between university study and vocational education.

“Higher education comes in many forms, and much of it is both practically focused and an excellent preparation for the labour market, boosting incomes and growth.”

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