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Jo Johnson on A level results and university standards

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On A level results day, the Universities Minister writes in today’s Telegraph that we want universities to wipe out mediocre teaching and drive up student engagement.

Jo Johnson, Universities Minister
Jo Johnson, Universities Minister

Those waiting for A level results this week know that our universities can play a huge part in their future success. However it’s no longer just traditional undergraduate studies on offer, students can also choose from our degree-level apprenticeships, which offer a direct route into a rewarding career.

And this year, the role universities play as drivers of productivity and engines of social mobility is greater than ever: we have, yet again, seen record application rates, including from disadvantaged pupils. At the same time we are seeing more people entering apprenticeships than ever before, offering an alternative for school-leavers which provides respected qualifications with a regular wage and on the job training with top UK employers.

Everyone making the big investment in their future that comes with a degree has a right to expect big returns on it, whichever institution they attend.

Graduates earn - on average - £9,500 a year more than non-graduates, and will pick up life skills, friendships and confidence that will benefit them for life.

But, there is unacceptable patchiness that requires our attention and, if we are to make sure that our university system retains its world leading status, we simply cannot stand still.

In my past year as Universities Minister I’ve seen our higher education system at its best, driving innovation, nurturing debate and helping everyone – whatever their background – go as far as their talents will take them.

But I’ve also seen troubling signs that it’s falling short of its potential and failing to deliver what students, employers and taxpayers require from it. That’s why this year I have set out important reforms to the higher education system.

We want our universities to wipe out mediocre teaching and drive up student engagement – so for the first time we are placing the quality of teaching on a par with academic research through our new Teaching Excellence Framework.

Universities need to be sustainable and incentivised to improve, which is why we’ll be rating them on the quality of teaching and experience they offer their students. We will only allow universities to raise fees in line with inflation if they excel, and will even consider reducing their fees if they are performing badly.

We need to make sure universities are open and accessible to all young people – so we will be placing a duty on them to publish data on the backgrounds of all students they take on and will have a new regulatory body that will shine a light where inequality exists and have the power to take action.

But of course, university isn’t for everyone, and there are now big returns from other routes too.

Thanks to our reforms there are more apprenticeship options than ever before - from space engineering to social media, construction to finance. For many students opening their results on Thursday, an apprenticeship can be the next step into a successful, empowered career, working with experts in Britain’s top companies from BAE Systems to Lloyds Bank.

Working with employers we’ve also developed apprenticeships that allow students to learn on the job and earn a wage whilst working towards a degree. Degree apprenticeships are available in a wide range of subjects from public relations to aerospace engineering.

Our commitment to high quality apprenticeships, student choice and graduate outcomes are helping deliver the right routes to a rewarding career for every pupil. So good luck to all of you (including nervous parents) but don’t be scared of those letters, they can all open up a great future.

This article appeared in today's Telegraph.

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