Zoe By BridgeLast week the Guildford Dragon published a piece on post-16 education which includes some comments from me on the issue - you can read it via this link https://www.guildford-dragon.com/2021/08/03/most-businesses-say-a-university-degree-is-unimportant/. These are just a snippet of the full comment that I shared with the author (I appreciate space is at a premium in news articles) so I thought it worth sharing them in full.

My brief was to share my thoughts on the choice that school leavers face between going to university and other, more vocational options, such as doing an apprenticeship. I hope you find my views interesting.

One reason I went into politics is because I want every person empowered to reach their full potential. Crucially, we must recognise that there is no single pathway through school into further education. That's why the wider choice that school leavers have is a positive step forward - it enables them to select the approach that best fits with their personal and financial circumstances.

But hearing school leavers feel they cannot choose university primarily due to high living costs, lack of proper financial support and high interest student loan repayments once at work, concerns me.

Our society must do more to support those whose aspirations require a university qualification. The government must look again at reinstating maintenance grants for the poorest students so that living costs are not a barrier to attending. Additionally, the government should require universities to make properly resourced mental health services accessible to students and legislate for a Student Mental Health Charter.

Should students have to pay full tuition fees and rent in student halls during a pandemic when they find themselves mostly learning online? This is a challenge. Personally, I would like to see these partly refunded as this was not the educational experience students paid for. However, universities have seen funding reductions, so the government needs to play its part here.

There isn't a one-size-fits-all educational pathway and I want to see more school leavers pursuing higher or further education; we must continue to expand all options - especially apprenticeships and other vocational qualifications, and properly funding lifelong learning for those unable to go into further education until later in life. We should also be working hard to promote the value of these qualifications - sadly they are still too often seen as the 'poor relation' to university by employers and society as a whole.

10th August 2021