News story

Prime Minister launches major review of post-18 education

The Prime Minister pledges to look at ways to ensure more people have a genuine choice of high quality technical and academic options.


Driving up quality, increasing choice and ensuring value for money are at the heart of a major review of post-18 education, launched by the Prime Minister today (19 February 2018).

The UK already has a globally recognised higher education system, with record rates of young people, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, going to university. Work is also underway to transform technical education post-16 by introducing new T levels - providing high quality technical qualifications to rival traditional academic options - and overhauling apprenticeships to help provide the skills our economy needs for the future.

Although significant progress has been made, it is clear that the current post-18 system is not working as well as it could be - for young people or for the country. The review will ensure that post-18 education is giving everyone a genuine choice between high quality technical, vocational and academic routes, students and taxpayers are getting value for money and employers can access the skilled workforce they need.

Speaking at Derby College, a further education college which offers apprenticeships and higher level learning, the Prime Minister warned against “outdated attitudes” that favour academic over technical qualifications and pledged to use the review to look at “the whole post-18 education sector in the round, breaking down false boundaries between further and higher education, to create a system which is truly joined up.”

The wide-ranging review will be informed by independent advice from an expert panel from across post 18 education, business and academia chaired by Philip Augar, a leading author and former non-executive director of the Department for Education. It will focus on the following four areas:

  • Choice: identifying ways to help people make more effective choices between the different options available after 18, so they can make more informed decisions about their futures. This could include more information about the earning potential of different jobs and what different qualifications are needed to get them, as well as ensuring they have access to a genuine range of high quality academic, technical or vocational routes.

  • Value for money: looking at how students and graduates contribute to the cost of their studies, to ensure funding arrangements across post-18 education in the future are transparent and do not stop people from accessing higher education or training.

  • Access: enabling people from all backgrounds to progress and succeed in post-18 education, while also examining how disadvantaged students receive additional financial support from the government, universities and colleges.

  • Skills provision: future-proofing the economy by making sure we have a post-18 education system that is providing the skills that employers need. This is crucial in boosting the UK economy and delivering on the government’s Industrial Strategy.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

Our post-18 education system has many strengths. It has a fantastic global reputation, we have record rates of disadvantaged students going to university and we are transforming technical education so employers have access to the skills they need.

However, with a system where almost all institutions are charging the same price for courses – when some clearly cost more than others and some have higher returns to the student than others – it is right that we ask questions about choice and value for money. We also need to look at the balance between academic study and technical education to ensure there is genuine choice for young people and that we are giving employers access to a highly skilled workforce.

Chair of the post -18 education review panel Philip Augar said:

I am delighted to chair this crucial review and to work alongside an excellent panel experienced in many different parts of the tertiary education sector. A world class post-18 education system has never been more important to business, society and the economy. We will be focused on ensuring that the system meets those needs by driving up access, quality, choice and value for money for students of all kinds and taxpayers.

I look forward to engaging widely with students, business, and providers across the post-18 education landscape. This is a wide open and far reaching review. We begin with no preconceptions and our first priority will be a serious examination of the evidence and hearing from a broad range of stakeholders who like us are committed to ensuring the system works for everyone.

Philp Augar will be supported by five panel members from across the post–18 education landscape. They are:

  • Bev Robinson – Principal of Blackpool and The Fylde College. She has over 20 years’ experience in Further and Higher education colleges in England and has been Awarded an OBE for her services to FE.

  • Edward Peck - Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University since August 2014. Previously, Professor Peck worked at the University of Birmingham as Director of the Health Services Management Centre and subsequently became Head of the School of Public Policy in 2006.

  • Alison Wolf - (Baroness Wolf of Dulwich) a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords, and author of the influential Wolf Review of Vocational Education, published in 2011. She has advised the House of Commons select committee on education and skills as well as the OECD, the Ministries of Education of New Zealand, France and South Africa, and the European Commission among others.

  • Sir Ivor Martin Crewe - Master of University College, Oxford and President of the Academy of Social Sciences. He is the former Chair of the 1994 Group and President of Universities UK.

  • Jacqueline De Rojas - President of techUK and the chair of the Digital Leaders board. She also serves on the government’s Digital Economy Council and was awarded a CBE for Services to International Trade in Technology in the Queen’s New Year Honours list 2018.

The government’s reforms to the higher education system, implemented through the new Office for Students, are going further than ever before to deliver for young people. This includes holding universities to account for the teaching and outcomes they deliver and shining a light on institutions that need to do more to widen access from disadvantaged groups.

In October last year, the Prime Minister announced that the government would freeze tuition fees for 2018/19 and increase the amount graduates can earn to £25,000 before they start repaying their fees, putting money back into the pockets of graduates.

Neil Carberry, CBI Managing Director for People and Infrastructure, said:

Businesses will be looking to the review to build on the strengths of our world-leading university sector and on the role further education plays in supporting the industrial strategy.

Maintaining a strong independent funding stream to universities through fees will be key, but there are important issues to address. These include the drop in part-time study, maintenance support for the most disadvantaged students and improving the provision of higher technical education. We look forward to working with the review team.

David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges said:

I am very pleased that the Review is looking at the whole system of post-18 education funding. The growth in higher education numbers and the widened access has almost exclusively been for young people taking traditional 3 year undergraduate degrees. That is good news for our economy and for society, and must not be damaged going forward.

However, that very growth has been at the expense of adequate and fair investment in the 50% of young people who leave education at 18 and who want to study to higher levels later. Their opportunities have been hampered because of the lack of attention, leading to fewer chances, less funding and a lack of support for them to learn whilst working.

The panel’s report will be published at an interim stage and the review will conclude in early 2019.

Read the Prime Minister’s speech in full.

See the review of post-18 education and funding terms of reference.

Philip Augar – Panel Chair Biography:

  • Financial services expert and author.

  • Had twenty-year career in the City as an equities broker (1970s-2000): led NatWest’s global equity and fixed income division and was most recently Group Managing Director at Schroders with responsibility for the securities business.

  • He was a non-executive board member at the Department for Education from 2004-2010 and at the Home Office from 2010-2014, where he was also Chairman of UK Border Agency in the months leading to its break up in 2013.

  • He was a member of the cross-party Future of Banking Commission chaired by David Davis MP in 2010 and the same year advised the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry into the banking crisis.

  • He was an independent non-executive at KPMG and was a board member of the retail bank TSB plc.

  • He holds a doctorate in History and is a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research.

Published 19 February 2018