Higher Education

Britain’s universities are respected around the world, and the knowledge and innovation they bring must be preserved if we are to continue to flourish. However, the system is now at breaking point.

The marketisation and rapid expansion of the higher education sector has not returned the promised benefits for students, or for the country at large. Relentless loan repayments constrict graduates’ futures, despite large taxpayer write-offs, and too much tertiary education fails to equip graduates with skills for a competitive workplace. The structure and funding of this sector requires urgent reform.

The research contribution of universities to the UK’s economy and our industry strategy will continue to be well-funded. We will also reinvigorate vocational qualifications to ensure that prospective students are offered the right variety of courses to support the industrial renewal of Britain and the community.


  • We will reduce undergraduate tuition fees to £7,000 per year. Course costs above this level will be met by central government. We will also lower the interest rate on student loans to CPI and cap total repayments at 1.2 times the original value of the loan in real terms.
  • Tuition fees for courses in critical infrastructure, research, and key sectors directly supportive of our industrial strategy will be set to zero. In some cases, this benefit will oblige a period of work within the public sector post-graduation.
  • We will balance national skills needs by significantly reducing the number of new bachelor degrees and increasing funding for vocational qualifications. We will also expand access to “degree apprenticeship” programmes, ie hybrid degrees which balance academic study with practical workplace experience.
  • Universities are for all. They will be expected to actively promote and encourage a wide variety of viewpoints, giving space for civil discussion without fear of harassment or no-platforming. Universities which fail to adhere to this requirement will face a withdrawal of government support for new student loans. The SDP’s policy “Charter for Academic Freedom” sets out the minimum expectations in this regard.
  • Postgraduate places will be only offered to international students in fields with high academic standing or industrial relevance.
  • Universities will be required to establish a body to validate the English language skills of all prospective international students before they are accepted for courses in the UK.
  • We will boost Government funding for university-based research, preferentially in areas of strategic industrial value, but also across a small number of areas of excellence in the arts and humanities.
  • Universities with unoccupied real estate will work with Innovate UK to offer business space to UK-based start-ups at cost / peppercorn rental rates for a period of 2 years.
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