Rishi Sunak has pledged to phase out university degrees that do not improve students’ “earning potential”, create the Russell Group of world-class technical colleges and offer the British Baccalaureate that would prevent 16-year-olds from giving up math and English.
The Conservative Party leadership said its plans to reform education after the age of 16 represented an “important step towards parity of appreciation between vocational education and academic education”.
His campaign said that if he became the next prime minister, Sunak would strengthen technical institutions’ networks and ties to industry, in addition to giving them certification powers.
The former advisor will evaluate college degrees by dropout rates, numbers in graduate jobs and salary thresholds, with exceptions for nursing and other courses of high social value.
In an apparent effort to appeal to the right, Sunak’s campaign said he would also expedite the Higher Education (Free Speech) Bill, which is in the House of Lords.
The government argued that the bill was necessary to tackle growing intolerance on universities, but opponents said it was intended to address a problem that did not exist and could protect hate speech.
Sunak also pledged to improve teachers’ professional development, sticking to plans to open 75 new free schools announced by the government in June, and giving schools a two-year “accountability holiday” after taking over poorly performing schools.
It will also expand the use of artificial intelligence and digital technology in the classroom and reduce teachers’ workloads.
“Quality education is the closest thing we have to a panacea when it comes to improving people’s lives,” Sunak said.
These proposals represent an important step towards equivalence of appreciation between vocational education and academic education. And they will take a tougher approach to college degrees that burden students with debt, without improving their earning potential.
“I will also take bold, practical steps to build on the successful conservative education reforms of the past decade by harnessing technology and improving the quality of teaching in underperforming areas.
“Every child deserves a world-class education, and if I become Prime Minister, I will make it my mission from day one to make sure that’s what they get.”
The former Chancellor will also create the new British Baccalaureate that requires students to continue studying core subjects such as mathematics and English until they finish school at the age of 18.
In an interview with The Times, he criticized the “too narrow specialization” of the current curriculum, which he said does not prepare young people for the “economy of tomorrow”.
“We are almost unique in the Western world, for an advanced economy and all high-performing education systems, in allowing people to drop math and stop studying their mother tongue at age 16,” he told the newspaper.
“In Germany, France and Asia, young people study math until the age of 18, and in the way the modern economy works, I think it would hold us back if our children didn’t have these skills.”
After his private education at Winchester College, where he was president, and a degree in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from Oxford University, Sunak earned his MBA from Stanford University in California.
His Conservative leadership rival, Liz Truss, presented herself as “Education Prime Minister” with a plan to replace failing academies with new free schools, promising that students with the highest A-level grades would be automatically invited to an interview at Oxford or Cambridge – raising questions on whether to change the timing of the school year.
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