Press release

million+ Chair calls on the Labour Party to look beyond changes to tuition fees

28 Sep 2015

In a speech delivered today (28 September) at a million+ and NUS co-hosted fringe at the Labour Party Conference 2015 in Brighton, Professor Dave Phoenix, Chair of million+ and Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University asks where next for Labour’s Higher Education policy and calls on the party to look beyond changes to tuition fees and consider other ways in which government can support universities.

Professor Phoenix will be sharing the platform with the Gordon Marsden MP, Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Further Education and Skills, Megan Dunn, NUS President and Paul Blomfield MP, Member, Business, Innovation and Skills Committee.

Professor Dave Phoenix said:

“With our students and graduates, universities play a key role in national and community life. If Labour does adopt different funding regimes they must deliver direct investment in universities, provide adequate student support, sufficient funded places for all those who have the talent to benefit from studying at university whatever their age and background, a more flexible and holistic approach to support part-time and workplace learning, and a research funding system that delivers investment in translational research.

“We also need a Home Office that takes pride in our world-class university system and our ability to attract international students from throughout the world.

“A tall order? Perhaps but there'll be no shortage of ideas from million+ as to how this might be achieved.”


At ‘Where Next for Labour’s Higher Education Policy?’ at the Labour Party Conference, 28 September 2015

Full Speech by Professor Dave Phoenix:

Thank you Stefan.

I am delighted to share a platform with Gordon, Megan, and Paul.

Paul - my predecessor had many kind words about the enormous contribution you have made to higher education. I became Chair of million+ in August. Megan, I believe, took office in July, and Gordon picked up the higher education brief for Labour just last week.

With so many new faces, my own included, it is worth taking stock of exactly where we are.

Let’s be clear since 2010 life for Vice-Chancellors and students has not been dull:

Everyone here will be well versed in the rise in tuition fees in England – but it’s worth remembering that these are based on an 80% reduction in the direct grant that universities used to receive from government through the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Undergraduate numbers have been completely deregulated since this year as an extension of the government’s marketised approach
Full-time student numbers have recovered and have now increased marginally but part-tine participation has fallen by 40%

From 2016 maintenance grants reintroduced by the Labour Government in 2004 will be switched to maintenance loans; research funding has been ring-fenced – let’s be clear that means a cut – and become even more selective.

Now Labour also supported concentration of research funding but just not quite to the same extent.

We now have a situation in which 72 universities get less than £5m per annum in government-supported research funding, while 13 universities receive between £20 and 50m per year and another 6 receive over £50m every year. This creates inequity in the unit of resource for students but it’s also bad for the economy, bad for regional growth and it’s bad for small businesses as well.

So if Labour is going to revisit policy on tuition fees it cannot be in a vacuum and ignore what else has gone on.

And Gordon this means that we will want to see close working between the shadow BIS team and the shadow education, health and home office teams.

Now Vice-Chancellors of universities are sometimes accused of defending the status quo – and there is some justification for this. However in modern universities and in million+ we have always been prepared to think outside of the policy box of the day.

We are proud of the fact that we publish research and policy analysis including research different models of university funding. So we are more than happy to play a part in thinking through the implications of any new higher education policy that Labour, or indeed any party, wants to explore.

But there are other immediate things on the horizon:
In October the government will publish a Green Paper. This will outline proposals to further promote the market and extend university title to new providers.

It will propose that an increase in fees should be linked to a new performance framework for teaching.

There are more questions to answers about the fairness of such an approach and how it would work and we will be publishing a think-tank piece about this.

McKinsey have been brought in to review the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. It can hardly be a surprise that they have proposed that the number of BIS agencies should be cut by 50% calling into question the future role of the Funding Council and the Office of Fair Access – proposals which could make universities subject to the centralised approach that we now see in schools.

There is no guarantee that the budget of Health Education England which underpins the education of health professional and support staff that universities deliver, will be protected in the Chancellor’s November Spending Review.

Postgraduate teacher education recruitment has just been deregulated and is being run on market lines with every chance that universities will be even more marginalised.

And there is every prospect that the visa regime that the Home Office has applied to international students which has resulted in a 49% fall in international students from India on the last 4 years, will become even more partisan and partial.

It’s no accident that universities are now pulling out of recruiting in some countries not because there are no students who want to study in the UK, but because universities cannot carry the institutional risk of increasingly arbitrary decisions by entry clearance officers.

So Gordon and Paul – there is a lot for Labour today. But let me finish on this note:

Universities and the teaching, research and knowledge exchange that they promote are vibrant places. With our students and graduates we play a key role in national and community life.

If Labour does adopt different funding regimes they must also deliver

  • direct investment in universities
  • provide adequate student support
  • sufficient funded places for everyone with the talent and ability to study for a degree or higher education qualification, whatever their background or age and funding regimes must be flexible to support part-time and workplace learning.
  • Research funding must be revisited to address what has become a closed shop and ensure that at the very least there is funding for translational research which is vital for innovation.
  • And of course we need a Home Office that takes pride in our world-class university system and our ability to attract international students from throughout the world.

Tall order? Perhaps but there’ll be no shortage of ideas from million+ and the NUS as to how this might be achieved.


Notes to Editors

  1. Professor Dave Phoenix, Chair of million+ and Vice-Chancellor, London South Bank University will be speaking at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton on Monday 28 October 2015, 12.30 - 13.30.
  2. For further information or to arrange an interview with Professor Dave Phoenix, contact million+ on: |020 7717 1658
  3. million+ is a leading university think-tank. More information can be found at