In Brief

More than half of young people now go to university

Milestone arrives 20 years after Tony Blair set it as a target

For the first time, more than half of young people go to university, 20 years after Tony Blair set that as a target.

Government data shows that a record 50.2% of those aged 17 to 30 in England had participated in higher education by 2017-18. This rose from 49.9% the previous year.

The rise is quite a change from early 1960s, when just 4% of school leavers went to university, rising to 14% by the end of the 1970s. Noting the milestone, The Times says “if there’s one thing likely to get baby-boomers chuntering, it’s the fact that so many young people go to university these days”.

Britain has reached the target later than some other countries. In 2017, 45% of under-30s in Britain had graduated from higher education, compared with 66% in Australia, 50% in Denmark and 48% in the Netherlands.

The then-prime minister Blair had set the target in 1999, two years after his general election manifesto speech that pledged to focus on “education, education, education”. Around 39% of young people were in higher education at that stage.

The Daily Mail recalls that Blair’s pledge was “controversial” with critics saying it would lead to those with low academic ability undertaking unsuitable courses. There were also concerns that the graduate job market would not be able to support so many people. 

However, Blair had insisted that a high number of graduates would “create a model nation based not on privilege, class or background”.

Commenting on the latest figures, Alan Smithers, education professor at the University of Buckingham, said: “It’s good that a lot more young people have the chance to go to university, but the great expansion has led to various strains within the system. At the moment not all courses enhance students’ lives and not all lead to good careers.”

Meanwhile, education secretary Gavin Williamson said that some universities were all talk and no action when it came to getting poor students through the door.

During a visit to King’s College London, Williamson said: “There’s a lot of virtue signalling going on but I’m not seeing enough results going on, and I’m not going to be timid in terms of naming and shaming universities that continuously lag behind.”

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For a round-up of the most important stories from around the world - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda - try The Week magazine. Get your first six issues for £6–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Recommended

Long Covid: the symptoms, the treatment and who is most at risk
A Covid patient is wheeled into hospital
Fact file

Long Covid: the symptoms, the treatment and who is most at risk

Fact check: does a pint a day really keep the doctor away?
binge drinking
In Depth

Fact check: does a pint a day really keep the doctor away?

Blair’s hair: Brad Pitt or Gandalf?
Tony Blair
In Brief

Blair’s hair: Brad Pitt or Gandalf?

‘Voters like a spot of island nation-state jingoism’
French fishing boats protest in St Helier harbour, Jersey
Instant Opinion

‘Voters like a spot of island nation-state jingoism’

Popular articles

London mayoral race 2021: who will win?
Night Tube Sadiq Khan
In Depth

London mayoral race 2021: who will win?

Laurence Fox to Count Binface: the most colourful London mayor candidates
Count Binface
Behind the scenes

Laurence Fox to Count Binface: the most colourful London mayor candidates

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 7 May 2021
10 Downing Street
Daily Briefing

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 7 May 2021