My take on technical degrees

Ed Miliband has recently outlined how technical degrees will benefit young people and help build a skilled economy.

Here is what I said in Parliament on the 9th July about this important idea and how it relates to my own proposals for the future of higher education.

See the full debate here.

“In a lecture to the RSA in January, I set out the case for employer co-sponsored degrees, so I am delighted by my right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party’s announcement of his backing for new high-level technical degrees that, as he said, would be delivered in partnership with industry, co-funded and co-designed by employers.

In the furore around the £9,000 tuition fees, not so much attention was given to an early decision of the coalition to close down Labour’s work force development programme. After just three years, it had created 20,000 co-sponsored degree programmes a year, with an average employer contribution of nearly £4,000.

The scheme was different from other higher education funding, because instead of having central allocations, employers and universities had to bid for funds. That element of competition created the incentive to design courses that employers really wanted to help pay for, and employer contributions could be varied according to ability to pay and the course on offer. We need something like that, and more of it, today.

At the moment, we have a persistent degree-level skills shortage in parts of the economy, but we also have record numbers of students going to university. However, a third of graduates are not working in graduate jobs five years after they graduate. They are up to their neck in debt, but higher education has not delivered what they expected.

The problem is not that we have too many graduates; it is the mismatch between supply and demand, which arises because employers have too little influence over the process. As the CBI said last July, we need more partnership-based provision, with greater business involvement in colleges and universities, as well as to boost apprenticeships.

But the market in “learn while you earn” models, such as higher apprenticeships and more flexible degree programmes, is underdeveloped.

There are other reasons why we need the change. The welcome expansion of higher education has had a less welcome aspect, in my view. Universities have increasingly concentrated on the most expensive model of higher education—the full-time honours degree studied away from home.

More than ever before, higher education is a one-shop deal for 18 and 19-year olds. Our graduates are the youngest in the OECD. There are two consequences. With an uneven schools system, such as that described by my right hon. Friend Mr McFadden, there is no chance of young people competing equally at 18, so social mobility suffers.

At the same time, there are fewer and fewer routes for the later developer, the student from the weak school and the young person whose family did not value education, and mature and part-time numbers are shrinking.

Technical degrees have been spoken of as an additional route for the 50% of young people who do not go to university. I will be frank and suggest that they would be a better route also for a minority of those currently entering higher education.

In the proposals that I set out earlier this year, I showed how those could be delivered without student debt and with better value for money for the taxpayer. If we recognised that employed students do not need maintenance, and if we made the cash available not as debt cancellation, but as subsidy to the employer, we could create the finance for a good co-sponsored degree. I look forward to my own party’s development of the idea.

Businesses will contribute, as they have done in the past. If they can educate an employee whom they have chosen, on a course that they have helped design, which is delivered full-time, part-time, on site or by distance learning, according to their business needs, at times that suit their business, the cost of contributing to the education of the graduate will be much less than the typical recruitment costs of employing a new graduate, let alone the typical retention costs when the business or the graduate finds out that they have made the wrong choice.

I hope my party retains at least the flexibility and the competitive elements of the work force development programme. Not only did they help to ensure that both employers and universities worked in effective partnership, but they will avoid the need to create cumbersome structures to design and validate new degrees.

The Wolf report was in part a comment on my time as a Minister. What Professor Wolf said, rightly, was that the genuine attempt to create employer-led bodies to design qualifications, which was shared by all sides, had not worked in delivering the qualifications that we needed.

The innovative effort should go into ensuring that SMEs, not just the major employers, have sufficient voice and weight to negotiate with universities.

In the autumn statement, the Chancellor announced huge new funding to take the cap off university places.

As things stand, that will all go to three-year degrees studied away from home by young people.

Putting that money, or some of it, into the type of technical degrees now being discussed might be a much better use of the money.”


Posted in Uncategorized

Teaching British Values

“Schools should be in the business of ‘nation-building’” says Denham, but Government’s approach to promoting British values is badly thought out and may be counter-productive

Mr Denham told the House of Commons in debate on Wednesday June 25th:

‘A diverse but sometimes divided Britain needs more than a hope that we will all rub along together. Young people do need a shared sense of our history and how we came to be sharing this land; they do need to understand how our past has shaped our values; and, crucially, they need to chance the debate and shape the values they will share in the years to come.

‘Those who dismiss the whole idea of promoting strong national values are wrong: In future, we need a conscious focus on nation building, and schools must play an important role.’

‘Multi-culturalism has not been the failure some say, but in promoting respect for difference it has failed to emphasise what draws us together. The limits of value-neutral multiculturalism are clear. We do need more emphasis on what we share while continuing to value our differences.  The old idea that we are simply citizens under the law, or even just different communities sharing the same space, are not enough. This doesn’t help us forge the common national story, the sense of shared identity alongside the many other national, faith, ethnic, cultural or local identities we hold, that is needed for a cohesive and successful society.

‘Schools have a crucial role in promoting that national story.

‘But schools and teachers need to be properly supported if they are to enable students to understand the links between our history and today’s ethnic mix in the UK; to find, for example, the common stories between different communities whose forebears fought on the same side in two world wars; to understand how values like tolerance have constantly been reinterpreted and reshaped in every generation.

‘Values mean little without understanding the history that shaped them. Students need to debate and explore values themselves, not just be taught them as facts. Mono-cultural schools must ensure that students have many opportunities to debate, study, work and socialise with students of different backgrounds from other schools.

‘Students need to appreciate that how we handle our differences is as important to British values as the things we will all agree on’

‘This is difficult, challenging and sensitive work’ but Mr Denham also said that ‘current government initiatives fail to provide the leadership, support and resources that schools and teachers will need to play this crucial role’.

‘For four years, the government has actively undermined school work in developing shared values. It stopped Ofsted inspecting school work on community cohesion and downgraded citizenship education. It promoted schools with greater autonomy to set their own curriculum and determine their own intake, and encouraged the idea that schools could be narrowly tied to one part of the community, or one set of parents’

‘British values are crucial, but they are not timeless, unchanging and cannot be taught by dictat. As changing views on sexuality and race make clear, British values are constantly evolving. Most of us have multiple identities – national, and local, cultural, ethnic and faith. Ministers cannot just take the power to decide arbitrarily what today’s British values are or should be.

‘Some of activities in some Birmingham schools, including the harassment of able teachers, the imposition of narrow dress codes, restricted curricula, racist stereotyping and gender segregation, are not acceptable. But this can and should be dealt with directly. All publicly funded schools, of any intake or designation, should be required to maintain an environment that is genuinely welcoming to all students of all backgrounds.

‘Instead Ministers have unhelpfully equated conservative theology with anti-British values and with the promotion of extremism. Some Muslims have been alienated, and fears in other sections of society reinforced. It has made a serious and important discussion about meeting the needs of Muslim children in today’s Britain less rather than more likely. Though there are real concerns about extremism and radicalisation, this debate should not just be about Muslims, neither should they be treated as one homogenous community.

‘The challenge is to bring together people from many different communities into a cohesive society and a strong national identity. That most include all our constituents – those who currently feel sharply that their British or English identities are under threat, those who admit to rising levels of prejudice, newer communities yet to find their place in our society, those who are happy with the way things are and those who welcome change.

‘A thin and inconsistent list of values, backed by inadequate guidance and under-resourced is simply not up to the task’.

A full version of the speech can be found here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Supporting Hampshire food and drink

On the 10th June I had the opportunity to sample a wonderful variety of food and drink from Hampshire producers at a fare event in the House of Commons.

John Denham at the Hampshire Fare event in Westminster

The reception was organised by Hampshire Fare and my neighbour MP Caroline Nokes, in Romsey and Southampton North.

Gatherings like this are an important way to promote our excellent local businesses to representatives from all over the UK.

The producers and organisations attending Hampshire in Westminster were:

Atkinson Fresh & Smoked Fish, Bishop’s Waltham
Bee Good, Hook
Belinda Clark Gourmet Confectionery, Southampton
Flack Manor Brewery, Romsey
Hampshire Cheeses, near Basingstoke
Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust
Hampshire Jam & Chutney Company, Winchester
Hattingley Valley Wines, near Alresford
Jake’s Artisan Foods, Petersfield
Jude’s Ice Cream, Twyford
Laverstock Park Farm (Hampshire Charcuterie), near Overton
Leckford  Estate, Stockbridge
Little Bee Bakery, near Southampton
Parsonage Farm (Hampshire Charcuterie), near Andover
New Forest Chocolates, New Forest
Oven Door Bakery, Fair Oak
Test Valley Tourism
Upham Brewery, Meon Valley

Image | Posted on by

Honouring constituents

Last Wednesday I brought three constituents – Lynda Walton from Holyrood Estate Residents and Tenants Association, long time disability rights champion Geoff Wilkinson, and community radio station Awaaz FM manager Ali Beg – to a ‘Real People, Real Stories’ reception with Ed Miliband.

This was an opportunity for me and the Labour leadership to honour the tremendous work that community campaigners like these three do in Southampton.

3 constituents with Ed Miliband

As Ed Miliband said, they are all role models to our local community and to the whole nation.


Posted in Uncategorized

Local and European elections in Southampton

The next elections taking place in Southampton and Romsey are the local council and European elections on Thursday 22nd of May

See our candidates, pledges and how you can get involved on the Southampton Labour Party website.

Say you're with Labour

Posted in Uncategorized

St George’s Day Videos

On the 23rd April Southampton celebrated its first major St George’s Day Festival. As part of this we had sixteen short films of community groups produced by Solent University students. You can see the result in groups of 4 below. … Continue reading


Let’s celebrate our confident Englishness

First published in the Daily Echo, Wednesday 23rd April 2014

AT the climax of today’s St George’s Day festival, hundreds of people will celebrate the community groups who make this great English city a good place to live. Like many people, I’ve always felt proud to be English, and I’m proud to be at the heart of today’s festival. But we English haven’t always bothered much with our national day. We left that to the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh.

Perhaps just being the largest nation in the United Kingdom was enough.

But, with devolution to Wales and Scotland, and England itself changing fast, more and more people want to take pride in our English identity. Today, the great majority of those living in England say being English comes before being British or any other national identity. Like many cities, one of Southampton’s strengths is our diversity. Around the year we welcome the Sikh Vaisakhi, the Chinese New Year, the Mela and other festivals. It does seem odd that the one thing we don’t celebrate is the identity that more of us share than any other.

St George’s Day is a chance to celebrate this confident Englishness.St George's Flag

April 23 is also Shakespeare’s birthday and we’ll celebrate England’s greatest gift to the world; the English language.

It’s people who make nations, and people who make a city. St George’s Day films by Solent students range from street pastors to local green groups, from the scouts to pensioner health groups, from small business advice to victim support. Across Southampton community groups, charities and pubs are marking the day in many different ways.

St George is a mythical figure, but all the stories say he slew a dragon.

The week we were told that a million people had turned to food banks is a good time to ask what modern dragons we need to slay. Poverty, inequality, greed, selfishness, intolerance? Our answers will help shape England’s future.

We’ll celebrate our past and we’ll look to the future. Throughout history this island has taken in new people and new ideas and made them part of England’s story. It’s still happening today. One Polish incomer told the BBC’s Nick Robinson ‘I’ll be Polish until I die, but my children will grow up English’. We all know that’s true because it’s happened so many times before; we will celebrate the new as well as the traditional.

There’s no place for racism or bigotry in modern Englishness, so no one should be scared of waving the flag or being proud of who we are. When people say, as they sometimes do, ‘you’re not allowed to say you are English any more’, let’s say ‘of course you can’! And if you weren’t part of it this year, there’s always next year.

See how we celebrated St George’s Day this year

Posted in Uncategorized