The Tories’ student manifesto policies show how out of touch they really are
We don’t care about free speech we just wanna pay our rent
The Tories have released their manifesto and it seems they don’t care about students all that much. It goes on about free speech, grade inflation, and academic freedom. Unsurprisingly there’s no mention of living costs or mental health.
Read the section on “world-leading universities” and notice the most concrete pledges: “We will also strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities and continue to focus on raising standards.”
“We also will continue to explore ways to tackle the problem of grade inflation and low quality courses”
These are student policies designed not for students, but for people who shop at Waitrose and worry campuses are full of snowflakes who have it too easy. They’re torn from the pages of broadsheets, rather than the concerns of actual students.
There’s scant mention of fees or existing debt. We get vague promises to “look at” the burden of debt, and with regard to the Augar proposals to reduce fees to £7,500, a Tory government “will consider them carefully”.
Not only do these sound like the kind of words your landlord uses when you tell him about a collapsed ceiling in your house, they fall short of a commitment to do anything about the most pressing issues for students.
At risk of dismissing the manifesto completely, it does have a couple of things. The Conservatives are singing about a new student visa, which lets people stay on to work after graduation. No idea how that’s different from the existing policy.
The reintroduction of a £5,000-£8,000 bursary for student nurses is although bone tossed to students, although it only needs to be reintroduced because the Conservatives scrapped it three years ago.
Comparing with the Labour manifesto here is easy, so look at the Brexit Party’s policies for students. Even Farage managed to feign enough concern to say he’ll scrap interest rates on student loans. The Lib Dems, desperate to win back the affections of students, promised to bring maintenance loans back and create better student mental health services.
Labour, although their manifesto was inevitably criticised for being full of fanciful freebies, offered free tuition, maintenance loans, and a freeze on interest rates. Still, like the Tories, they’re vague on “looking at existing debt”.
There are probably more important issues for students than just those narrowly affecting universities. Ask any student what they find most important, and climate change and Brexit tend to lead the conversation. But even so, when so much of the space dedicated to universities in a party’s manifesto goes on about free speech and grade inflation, you’ve got to ask: how did they get so out of touch?