When the political historians of the future look back upon this election, what will they say? Given the political and social upheaval of the past decade, it seems incredibly unlikely that it will be characterised as being run of the mill.
Over the course of the past century, there have been a number of elections that have stood out for their historical significance. Both the 1945 and 1979 general elections led to the complete reformation of the UK’s economic and political consensus – with Keynesian and Neoliberal economics being brought forth in 1945 and 1979 respectively – and there is a good chance that the 2019 election will join this class.
With this general election being held on the eve of Brexit, it’s probable that the result will end up setting the paradigm for the decades that follow. As such for today’s youth – being those who will have to deal with the ramifications most directly and for the longest period of time – this could be the most important that they’ll ever face.
What are the issues facing the youth of today?
The past decade has been hard on young people. The spill over of the 2008 financial crisis left many standing on shaky financial ground, and indeed, millennials are estimated to be the first generation left worse off than that of their parents.
Many young people are concerned about their prospects for employment and general quality of life. Inherently linked to this is the rising cost of education. The average student will graduate with debts somewhere north of £50,000, and the number is even larger for those from poorer backgrounds. Compounding this issue has been the rise in living and equipment costs for students. Those who don’t choose to attend university will be worried about the career pathways or lack thereof available to them.
Looming ominously over the heads of today’s young will also be the threat of automation and A.I. With these technologies likely to result in both the creation and loss of jobs, younger voters will likely want to see movement being made towards lifelong training and education in adulthood to ensure that their skillsets remain appropriate.
What are the main parties offering to students and young people?
The Liberal Democrats have committed to a ‘review of higher education finance’ in their manifesto, although they refrained from going into specifics. However, they did confirm that they would look to reintroduce maintenance grants for students. The Lib Dem’s would also seek to improve the provision level of mental health services in University by legislating for a ‘Student Mental Health Charter’.
One of their more notable proposals has been to introduce a ‘Skills Wallet’ for the entire adult population in England. This would provide individuals with £10,000 worth of funding, which will be able to be spent on specially approved training and education programmes. They’d also allocate £150m for a new ‘young people’s premium’, which would give sixth forms and FE colleges extra funding for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Labour party go further than the Lib Dems, in promising to abolish tuition fees and write off all existing student debt. Like the Lib Dems, they’ve also made a commitment to reinstating maintenance grants. The cumulative cost of these two policies have been estimated at £7.2 billion a year. Labour will also look to reform the process of university admissions, stating that the process will instead happen after students have received their grades, as opposed to making an application based off predicted grades as happens currently.
They’ve also promised to give every adult the entitlement to six years of adult education, covering undergraduate degrees, higher national certificates, foundation degrees and diplomas of higher education. This would come as part of a ‘National Education Service’ aimed at providing education from ‘cradle to grave’
The Conservative party has said it will consider the recommendations put forward in the Augar Review – which was an independent Government review looking at educational funding for those over the age of 18. It’s also promised to ‘look at’ the rate of interest on student loan repayment, in addition to tackling grade inflation and strengthening ‘academic freedom and free speech’.
The Tories have stated that they will establish a new ‘National Skills Fund’ with £3bn of government support. They’ve also stated that it is their ambition to establish a ‘Right to Retrain’ for all adults, letting people keep their skills matched with technological change. They’ve also announced that they wish to launch 20 Institutes of Technology to deliver science and engineering.
Will they be effective?
It’s incredibly positive to see all three of the major political parties make moves towards supporting education and addressing issues that are key to young people.
The Liberal Democrat’s ‘Digital Skills Wallet’ immediately jumps out as the most appealing, as it will offer both flexibility and choice to the user. However, with technology and the employment market evolving at a frenetic pace, the fifteen-year gaps between funding rounds may be too wide to be effective.
Labour’s plans to increase funding levels and equivocate vocational studies with University degrees will too help to provide choice. It could also create opportunities for those who feel that the academic route isn’t for them. Though, there are questions to be answered about costs, and potential abuse of the system.
The Conservatives have been right to introduce a ‘right to retrain’ but there are many questions to be answered about what their plans actually entail.
It has been a tough decade for young people, and we’re now standing at a crossroad. The election result will end up defining the success of a generation. As such, whoever holds the position of prime minister after the election – they must make sure that the thoughts of the young are central to their plans.
Gauthier Van Malderen, CEO of Perlego