Many of Labour’s education policy announcements are either clouded by vagueness or appear poorly thought through. No more so than with the recent proposals for Technical Degrees. (http://press.labour.org.uk/post/91140989789/ed-miliband-speech-to-the-sutton-trust) For example, David Miliband is accused by Professor Alison Wolf of both undermining the importance of Higher Level Apprenticeships and creating confusion over the status of the existing Foundation Degrees; while Coalition Skills Minister Mathew Hancock also claimed that Miliband was in a ‘bit of a muddle’ (http://feweek.co.uk/2014/07/08/academic-sends-miliband-back-to-classroom-over-confusing-technical-degree-plan/). While there may well be confusion over the specifics of particular reforms however, more significant are the wider illusions on which the policy announcements are based.
Firstly, Labour sees the major divide being between the ‘graduates’ and the ‘forgotten 50%’. Though being re-established as One Nation Labour, these ideas are a continuation of the ideas of New Labour where the aim was to get as many people into higher education as possible so as to increase social mobility. But the increase in the number of graduates under New Labour only created a situation where more were ‘overqualified and underemployed’ –one survey now suggesting that just 53% of university leavers will gain ‘graduate jobs’ in the next five years. (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jun/26/student-unrealistic-job-expectations) Emphasising a graduate /non-graduate divide also ignores the different labour market returns from different sorts of degrees awarded by different sorts of institutions.
Secondly, Labour cites a ‘skills crisis’ as the justification for training more technician level workers, but projects like the high speed rail line or the growth (often overestimated) of employment in new ICT based ‘cutting edge’ industries are not going to compensate for the long term decline in manufacturing employment (already less than 12% of total employment even if manufacturing output remains the same as 25 years ago) or ‘the ‘hollowing out’ of intermediate level employment (https://radicaled.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/the-hour-glass-economy/) . As is the case with Advanced Level Apprenticeships, rather than having to sponsor existing employees through Technical Degrees as Miliband proposes; the glut of graduates means employers can draw upon those already qualified.
Once again, Labour is only proposing superficial reforms to the ‘supply side ’ of the labour market rather than confronting the major inadequacies that young people face in trying to enter employment and which requires linking its education and training policies to a more general industrial strategy and an alternative economic plan.