Scepticism of universities has become the Tory party’s ‘new Euroscepticism’, Boris Johnson’s brother Jo Johnson has claimed.
Johnson, a former universities minister and ex-Tory MP, was speaking at the Festival of Higher Education when he said higher education scepticism is the ‘new Euroscepticism on the Conservative benches’ due to growing concerns about value for money.
He said the higher education sector has scored an ‘own goal’ by calling for temporary student number controls at institutions this year amid the Covid-19 crisis.
‘They’ve given the government exactly the tools – which higher education sceptics would like to have – to limit the future growth of the sector in coming years,’ he said.
The Department for Education (DfE) has introduced a temporary cap on the number of students that individual universities in England can recruit this year – which is designed to prevent some institutions from over recruiting to make up for lost revenue caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
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He continued: ‘I would bet almost any money that student number controls that are in place this year will be in place again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.’
English providers will have the number of students capped at their forecast growth plus 5% this year, while universities in the devolved nations will not be able to increase their intake of English students by more than 6.5%.
The former universities minister warned that providers of social sciences, arts and humanities courses should be ‘most worried’ about the government’s student number controls.
‘I cannot see this government deciding to free up places in those sectors. They’re very much in the crosshairs,’ Mr Johnson, president’s professorial fellow at King’s College London and senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, said.
He added: ‘I can see all additional funding allocated through additional places being steered towards the Stem subjects.
‘So I think there is a real risk that the sector has scored an own goal in this respect and I think the areas within the sector that are going to be most vulnerable are going to be the creative arts subjects in particular.’
Johnson was universities and science minister until September last year when he resigned from his brother’s cabinet citing an ‘unresolvable tension’ between his family loyalty and the national interest.