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General election 2017: policy comparisons

Ahead of the general election on 8 June, UCU is looking at how the main political parties' promises on education stack up against UCU's own manifesto. We have highlighted the main manifesto pledges each of the parties are making in relation to key areas like education funding, apprenticeships, skills and immigration.

The comparison table on this page is for the main parties operating in England. You can download a comparison for the main parties contesting seats in Scotland and Wales here:


Education funding

UCU profile pic large Our manifesto says change how post-school education is funded:

  • increase public investment in tertiary education to at least the OECD average.
  • abolish tuition fees in further and higher education.
  • explore alternative funding options including a Business Education Tax.

Conservative Party icon Conservative Party

Launch a review of funding across tertiary education as a whole, exploring options for student support across different routes.

Introduce a national retraining scheme with costs met by government.

Forgive new teachers on student loan repayments while they are teaching.

Introduce significantly discounted bus and train travel for apprentices.

Make it a condition for universities hoping to charge maximum tuition fees to become involved in academy sponsorship or the founding of free schools.

Labour Party icon Labour Party

Abolish university tuition fees from Autumn 2018, funded partly by higher corporation tax.*

Reintroduce maintenance grants for university students.

Restore the Education Maintenance Allowance.

Replace Advanced Learner Loans and fees with direct funding so that further education courses, including ESOL, are free at the point of use.

Lib Dem icon Liberal Democrat

Establish a review of higher education finance.

Make sure there is no more retrospective raising of student loan repayment rates or selling-off of student

loans to private companies.

Reinstate maintenance grants for the poorest students.

Green Party icon Green Party

Scrap university tuition fees.

Write off student debts.

Fund full student grants.

Restore the Education Maintenance Allowance.

Increase public investment in further and higher education.

Marketisation in education

UCU profile pic large Our manifesto says oppose marketisation in education:

  • oppose for-profit provision within further and higher education
  • oppose the Teaching Excellence Framework and any proposed link to tuition fees.

Conservative Party icon Conservative Party

Work to build up the investment funds of universities across the UK so they can be listed, and engage more British investors in higher education.

Labour Party icon Labour Party

Create a National Education Service (NES) for England offering cradle-to-grave learning, free at the point of use.

Lib Dem icon Liberal Democrat

Reinstate quality assurance for universities applying for degree-awarding powers.

Green Party icon Green Party

Call for an end to privatisation in education.


UCU profile pic large Our manifesto says protect the rights of international staff and students:

  • immediately guarantee the right to remain of EU citizens working and studying in the UK
  • remove international students from the net migration target.

Conservative Party icon Conservative Party

Retain students within net migration target, and reduce annual net migration to the tens of thousands.

Toughen visa requirements for students, and strengthen requirements for graduates wishing to work in the UK.

Increase the Immigration Health Surcharge for migrant workers and international students.

Increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.

Double the Immigration Skills Charge levied on companies employing migrant workers.

Labour Party icon Labour Party

Immediately guarantee rights for all EU nationals in UK and secure reciprocal rights for UK citizens in EU countries.

Remove international students from net immigration numbers.

Britain to remain part of the Erasmus scheme.

Crack down on fake colleges.

Lib Dem icon Liberal Democrat

Recognising their largely temporary status, remove students from the official migration statistics.

Reverse the damage to universities and academics by changing the country's course away from a hard Brexit.

Recognise the value of international staff to universities and promote international collaboration.

Green Party icon Green Party

Immediately guarantee rights of EU citizens in the UK and seek reciprocal arrangements for UK citizens in the EU.

Retain schemes like Erasmus.

Developing the skills workforce

UCU profile pic large Our manifesto says invest in the education workforce:

  • invest in 15,000 further education teaching staff to support over 250,000 more learners into education
  • eradicate zero-hours contracts and strengthen duties on employers to offer secure employment
  • promote action on excessive workloads.

Conservative Party icon Conservative Party

Invest in further education colleges to make sure they have world-class equipment and facilities.

Create a new national programme to attract experienced industry professionals to work in FE colleges.

Allow Institutes of Technology to gain royal charter status and regius professorships in technical education.

Make sure that people working in the 'gig' economy are properly protected.

Labour Party icon Labour Party

Abandon plans to build new technical colleges and redirect the money to increase teacher numbers in the further education sector.

Set a target for all UK teaching staff in further education to have a teaching qualification within 5 years, and consult on teacher sabbaticals and industry placements.

Reverse cuts to Unionlearn.

Give all workers equal rights, whether part-time, full-time, temporary or permanent.

Ban zero-hours contracts and work with trade unions to end workplace exploitation

Lib Dem icon Liberal Democrat

Reverse all cuts to front-line college budgets, protecting per-pupil funding in real terms.

Stamp out abuse of zero-hours contracts, create a formal right to request a fixed contract and consult on introducing a right to make regular patterns of work contractual after a period of time.

Strengthen enforcement of employment rights, including by bringing together relevant enforcement agencies and scrapping employment tribunal fees

Green Party icon Green Party

Phase in a 4 day working week with a maximum of 35 hours.

Abolish exploitative zero hours contracts.

Abolish Ofsted.

Supporting adult learning

UCU profile pic large Our manifesto says protect local access to adult learning:

  • increase funding for basic skills so that more learners can benefit
  • develop a national ESOL strategy to ensure that everyone who needs them can access to English classes
  • increase support for flexible and part-time learning
  • ensure that devolved skills funding is ring fenced for education and that educators have an input on local skills decisions.

Conservative Party icon Conservative Party

Introduce a right to lifelong learning in digital skills.

Bring forward a new integration strategy, part of which would include teaching more people to speak English.

Replace 13,000 existing technical qualifications with new T-levels, and increase the number of teaching hours to an average of 900 hours per year with each student to complete a three-month work placement.

Introduce a UCAS-style portal for technical education.

Introduce a new right for employees to request leave for training.

Deal with local skills shortages through Skills Advisory Panels and Local Enterprise Partnerships working at a regional and local level.

Establish new institutes of technology in every major English city.

Labour Party icon Labour Party

Establish free lifelong education in further education colleges, including ESOL.

Improve careers advice

Increase investment so colleges can deliver T-levels and an official pre-apprenticeship trainee programme.

Devolve responsibility for skills to city regions or devolved administrations.

Set up a Commission on Lifelong Learning to integrate further and higher education.

Lib Dem icon Liberal Democrat

Aim to meet all basic skills needs including literacy, numeracy and digital skills by 2030.

Create individual accounts for funding mature adult and part-time learning and training, and provide for all adults individual access to all necessary career information, advice and guidance.

Facilitate across the UK an effective and comprehensive system for credit transfer and recognition of prior learning and qualifications.

Develop national colleges as national centres of expertise for key sectors.

Expand higher vocational training.

Develop a national skills strategy for key sectors, including low-carbon technologies, to help match skills and people.

Green Party icon Green Party

Increase public investment in further and higher education.

Research and development

UCU profile pic large Our manifesto says increase investment in research and development:

  • commit to a UK spend of 2.4% of GDP on R&D, in line with the OECD average
  • review the increasing concentration of research funding across a small range of universities.

Conservative Party icon Conservative Party

Increase spending on R&D to 2.4% of GDP within ten years, with a longer-term goal of a 3% GDP spend.

Additional support for R&D through the £23bn National Productivity Investment Fund.

Labour Party icon Labour Party

Meet OECD target of 3% of GDP spend on research and development by 2030

Seek to stay part of Horizon 2020 and its successor programmes.

Lib Dem icon Liberal Democrat

Protect the science budget, including the recent £2 billion increase, by continuing to raise it at least in line with inflation, with a long-term goal to double innovation and research spending.

Fight to retain access to Horizon 2020 and Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions funding and underwrite British funding from these sources if lost as a result of Brexit.

Green Party icon Green Party

The Green Party manifesto does not refer to research and development.


UCU profile pic large Our manifesto says expand and reform the apprenticeship levy:

  • expand the levy to cover more employers, with different sized employers paying amounts proportionate to their total pay bill
  • reform the levy so that it can also be used for other types of work based learning which is valued by employers.

Conservative Party icon Conservative Party

Allow large firms to pass levy funds to their supply chain, and develop a new programme to allow larger firms to place apprentices in their supply chains.

Allow the levy to be used to pay the wages of staff engaged in national training scheme programmes.

Deliver on the target of 3 million apprenticeships for young people by 2020.

Drive up the quality of apprenticeships to ensure they deliver the skills employers need.

Expand degree apprenticeships for public sector workers (e.g. in health and education), and explore teaching apprenticeships sponsored by major companies, especially in STEM subjects.

Labour Party icon Labour Party

Maintain the apprenticeship levy, and work with devolved assemblies to improve its operation.

Allow the levy to be used for pre-apprenticeship programmes.

Protect the £440 million funding for apprenticeships for small-and medium-sized employers who don't pay the levy.

Aim to double the number of completed apprenticeships at NVQ level 3 by 2022, and consult on introducing incentives for large employers to over-train numbers of apprentices to fill skills gaps.

Require the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to report annually on quality outcomes of completed apprenticeships

Guarantee trade union representation in the governance structures of Institute of Apprenticeships.

Lib Dem icon Liberal Democrat

Ensure that all the receipts from the Apprenticeship Levy in England are spent on training.

Aim to double the number of businesses which hire apprentices.

Green Party icon Green Party

Enable apprenticeships to all qualified young people aged 16-25.

Prison education

UCU profile pic large Our manifesto says invest more in prison education:

  • commit an additional £30 million to prison education to deliver more high level qualifications which support effective rehabilitation
  • take action to improve health and safety for prison personnel.

Conservative Party icon Conservative Party

Statement that prisons should help prisoners learn English, maths and work skills.

Invest over £1 billion to modernise the prison estate.

Create a national community sentencing framework with a focus on helping people turn lives around.

Labour Party icon Labour Party

Annual reports on prisoner-staff ratios, with a view to maintaining safety and ending overcrowding

Insist on personal rehabilitation plans for all prisoners.

Lib Dem icon Liberal Democrat

Transform prisons into places of rehabilitation, recovery, learning and work, with suitable treatment, education or work available to all prisoners.

Green Party icon Green Party

The Green Party manifesto does not refer to prisons.


UCU profile pic large Our manifesto says review the Prevent strategy:

  • undertake a comprehensive review of the Prevent strategy in education.

Conservative Party icon Conservative Party

Support the public sector and civil society in identifying extremists, countering their messages and promoting pluralistic, British values.

Establish a Commission for Countering Extremism to identify and expose extremism.

Labour Party icon Labour Party

Review the Prevent strategy.

Address government's failure to take any effective new measures against a growing problem of extreme or violent radicalisation.

Lib Dem icon Liberal Democrat

Scrap the Prevent strategy and replace it with a scheme that prioritises community engagement and supports communities.

Green Party icon Green Party

Reject Prevent and pursue a community-led, collaborative approach.

*Since publishing its manifesto, Labour has announced that it will also write off tuition fees for anyone beginning a higher education course in Autumn 2017.

Last updated: 30 October 2019