The General Election, Higher Education & Disabled Students

27th April 2017 by Catia Neves

Theresa May called for a snap election on the 8th June 2017, 3 years before the scheduled general election of 2020. This came as a surprise to most, particularly following the numerous occasions (no less than 8 to be precise), in which the Prime Minister clearly stated there would not be a snap election as it would cause instability. Nevertheless, we are facing a fast approaching general election, so here’s a quick rundown of the affect this may have on Higher Education and Disabled Students, and the factors that may impact on your decision on 8 June.

Past Voting Records

Previous voting records give us a good indication of where the main party leaders stand on key issues, and what position they are likely to adopt in the future. So, here’s a list of the main topics that impact on education and disability rights. You can explore any MP or Lords’ voting record on ‘They Work for You’.

Tuition Fees Policy

Looking at past votes concerning ‘Raising England’s undergraduate tuition fee cap to £9,000 per year’, Theresa May was in favour For, whilst Corbyn is Against and Farron also Against. It is common knowledge that one of Labours key pledges is to scrap tuition fees, and is widely supported across the party. It is unclear how Labour will enable this to become a reality, as around £10bn will need to fronted through spending budgets. Corbyn has previously suggested he would raise the sum needed through taxes from businesses or higher-earners, whilst Andrew Harrop has proposed a reconfigured National Insurance system which would have a ‘life-long learning’ budget built into it. Either way it is likely that this will become policy if Labour are elected. Otherwise, under the new HE Bill’s ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’, universities will be able to change their fees according to their ranking. This was opposed on the 6th March by the Lords, but is yet to be publicly announced whether this amendment will be retained in the final policy.

Disability Welfare and Graduate Support

The Disabled Students Allowance and general disability welfare allowances have been dramatically cut under the Conservatives. In terms of cross- party approaches to spending on welfare, we can see from past votes that typically May voted For a ‘Reduction in spending on welfare benefits’, whilst Corbyn is Against this and Farron has Mixed feelings. In terms of the impact on disabled individuals, general employment statistics between non-disabled an disabled individuals currently sits at a 32% difference, as stated in a recent Governmental Green Paper on ‘Work, Health and Disability’. Thus targeted spending on welfare for Disabled people would be welcome.

Taken from the ‘Work, health and disability green paper: improving lives’

According to a Government study (2016) Disabled graduates within the working age population on average earn £1,000 less than graduates that are not disabled. It also indicated that the employment rates of non-disabled graduates sits at 88.9% as opposed to 72.5% of disabled graduates to have found employment. In view of this, previous votes to ‘spend public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed’ (who are statistically more likely to be disabled), show that Theresa May was Against such spending, Corbyn was For and Farron Against.

Brexit Negotiations

Mobility and Funding

Funding has been confirmed for EU Students for 2018–19, meaning EU students will continue to have access to student loans and grants, even if their course concludes after the UK’s exit from the EU. They will also remain eligible for home fee status, at the same fee rates as UK students during 2018–19 academic years. It’s positive to see steps have been made to protect funding opportunities for EU students for the near future, but it remains to be seen how Brexit negotiations will affect the longer term funding and mobility for EU students.

The UK’s universities currently welcome 438,010 international students- 6% are from the rest of the EU (which equates to 127,440 students) and 14% are from the rest of the world, whilst 46% of students studying at postgraduate level in the UK are international. It is unclear at this point what a post-Brexit migration policy might look like, and as Higher Education makes up just a small proportion of the bigger picture we’ll have to wait and see how this affects the flow of European academics, students and those on the Erasmus exchange programme. However what we can deduce from previous voting records on topics related to mobility of EU citizens, with regards to the policy ‘Right to remain for EU nationals already in living in the UK’, Theresa May has consistently voted Against, whilst Corbyn For and Farron For. Similarly, policies relating to a more integrated EU, May was typically Against, Corbyn Mixed, whilst Farron For.

Research Programmes

The UK currently gains £1.2 billion a year in research funding from the EU, and is a major beneficiary of the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and networks. To protect the UK’s world renowned higher education and research profile, we would also look to securing continual European Research Council grants and access to cutting-edge international research resources.

Higher Education and Research Bill

Is set to pass through parliament any day now, so isn’t necessarily directly impacted by the oncoming election. But to summarise- following lengthy discussions led by Jo Johnson with representatives of the opposition parties, the bill is hurriedly going through the ‘wash up’ process. Parliament is due to dissolve on 3 May ahead of the general election, so issues need to be resolved imminently in order to pass it through in time. You can see what the Teaching Excellence Framework could mean for Disabled Students here. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that “The government’s amendments are clearly designed to meet the opposition halfway” and that it should pass through this week. What remains to be seen however, is whether the bill remains intact after the general election…

Waiting for Manifestos…

Until each party releases their full manifesto, we won’t have all the facts needed to make a fully informed decision. In the meantime, we hope this examination of key issues and how they have previously been represented by the different parties gives a good starting point as to who you may support on the 8 June.

Registering to Vote!

You must register by 22nd May to vote in the General Election on 8 June- you can register to vote here:, you will need your National Insurance Number and Passport. You don’t need to register again if you’ve already registered.

Written by Raphaele von Koettlitz

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