From education to employment

Skills Minister sets out her stall at Brexit rally

Andrea Jenkyns, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Education and Skills, Further and Higher Education Minister

The new Skills Minister, Andrea Jenkyns MP, has been speaking at various fringe events at the Conservative party conference.

Delivering a keynote speech to the Bruges Group on Monday 3 October, Jenkyns told a gathering of party members that she felt the government had another major fight on its hands, at least equivalent to the Brexit process. She said:

“We’ve got quite a fight on our hands. This time for freedom of speech. Did any of us imagine that one day we would be lambasted for saying what a woman is? Or that men shouldn’t be competing against woman in sport?”

As parliamentary under-secretary of state, Jenkyns is responsible for piloting the Freedom of Speech Bill through Parliament. She said:

“Freedom to speak one’s mind and not to worry about approaching controversial subjects is an essential part of what makes society free.

“This is especially true in higher education, an area where this right should be unquestioned. In recent months, we’ve seen the no platforming campaigns aimed at rescinding invitations to guests in universities. We’ve seen reports of academics being afraid to espouse what we in this room would deem regular views. This is unacceptable, and it’s an issue we must tackle,” she added.

On the FE and skills brief, minister Jenkyns said:

“A skilled modern economy competing on the global stage requires technical skills just as much as it needs graduates. Yet the current system would rather our young people get a degree in Harry Potter studies than an apprenticeship in construction. Now, it doesn’t take magic powers to work out that this is wrong, which is why the government is committed to putting the broomstick to good use and carrying out a spring clean of low-quality courses. If a course isn’t providing someone with a positive outcome leading to a well-paid job, then it makes no sense why the government should be funding it, especially taxpayers.

“We’re injecting more flexibility in the funding system, and we are changing the landscape of how qualifications are funded and making it easier to access education whatever stage in your life.”

Skills Minister on T Levels

On government owned T-Levels, Jenkyns said elsewhere on the fringe that she thought the brand had been “tarnished slightly” by some of the recent grading controversy that was associated with the new qualifications.

But addressing the Bruges Group, she concluded:

“Degree apprenticeships means that people get stuck into real life jobs while simultaneously studying. And we are launching the lifelong learning entitlement in 2025. This is a definition of conservatism. It gives people the tools they need to plough ahead and make the most of their talent and drive the economy forward. After all, this is a country, let us not forget, that gave us the Internet, the telephone, television and the railways.

“And I’m very proud to be British. We didn’t do it all by having our brightest and best students sat in these seminars and discussing de-colonization, preferred pronouns or the patriarchy.”

You can listen to a recording of the entire speech here:

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  1. The Minister should give her head a good shake before making absurd comparisons between qualifications. Sober behaviour and considered judgement is not her forte, of course, as we saw when she lost control of her middle finger on the way out of Downing Street! It’s high time that this government stopped making false connections between qualifications and ultimate career outcomes based on facile judgements about income levels. They need to listen more and get a more realistic understanding of how individuals actually reach their career destinations – in many cases the route is a lot more convoluted than the minister would like us to believe.