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There are many reasons to expand UK universities but subsidising young people to make themselves poorer is not one of them (Opinion, April 7). It should be unconscionable to university leaders that nearly a fifth of graduates earn less than if they had not gone at all and nearly half of recent graduates are in non-graduate roles.

When in 1999 Tony Blair set a target of half of school leavers entering higher education, at least he had the excuse that no long-term earnings data existed. Today we do not have the luxury of ignorance. Ministers’ plans to curb low-value courses and introduce minimum entry requirements may result in fewer undergraduates, but they will safeguard quality and — with that — universities’ long-term reputations.

Recent research by the Centre for Vocational Education Research at the London School of Economics reveals that men with a higher apprenticeship earn on average £5,100 more at age 30, and women with a higher apprenticeship earn £2,700 more at age 30, than those who did an undergraduate-level degree. And yet the government spends more underwriting the student loan costs of creative arts, business and social studies graduates each year than it budgets for apprenticeships. It is inescapable that we need more good apprenticeships and fewer low-value degrees.

Will Tanner
Director, Onward
Former Deputy Head of Policy
10 Downing Street, 2016-2017
London SW1, UK

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