From education to employment

Conservatives clash over ‘mickey mouse’ courses on the Skills World Live Radio Show

Panellists at the Conservative Party conference have been discussing the future of FE, qualifications and skills. 

They were taking part in a special conference edition of the Skills World Live Radio Show, which has been reporting from the political conference season, including a recording at the Labour conference in Liverpool.

Hosted by Tom Bewick, FAB chief executive and regular presenter, the panel at the Conservative Conference included: 

  • Kirstie Donnelly MBE, co-chair, Federation of Awarding Bodies & CEO, City and Guilds 
  • Emily Carver, acting head of communications, Institute of Economic Affairs 
  • Cllr John Cope, director of strategy at UCAS and board member, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education

The panel discussed how to tackle poor skills and the UK’s productivity gap. Despite a decade of reforms, employers are spending a tenth less on workforce training compared to 2011, according to the National Audit Office. 

Adult and community education participation has also declined, by perhaps up to 4 million places, in a separate analysis published by the Learning & Work Institute. 

On the issue of course quality, Emily Carver, a columnist for Conservative Home, said: 

“We’ve been talking about micky mouse degrees for years, but it doesn’t appear to have made any difference to the amount of people going to university. Building up massive debts and then regretting doing god knows what.” 

Cllr John Cope, a Conservative councillor and UCAS director, defended universities: 

“The reason why this comes back time and time again is because it’s nonsense. You say to people, show me a mickey mouse course and then they can’t. The reason they can’t is because further and higher education develops courses that students and the economy needs”.

Kirstie Donnelly said that there were echoes of this debate in terms of Level 3 and below vocational and technical qualifications reform. She said: 

“There is a shadow effect going on here, in terms of rationalisation. And to a certain degree I believe rationalisation is needed across the whole education and skills landscape, in terms of what’s offered.” 

Elsewhere at the party conference, the new Skills Minister, Andrea Jenkyns MP, weighed into the debate telling a fringe event audience:

“The current system would rather our young people get a degree in Harry Potter studies than an apprenticeship in construction.” 

You can listen to the Great Skills Debate (Conservative Party Conference) on FE News at 4pm Friday 7 October. Available in playback at and (audio only) where you usually get your podcasts. 

The party conference recordings were kindly sponsored by the Platinum Partners’ Programme of the Federation of Awarding Bodies and the show’s sponsor, OneFile. 

Don’t forget to tune in next week, when we will be broadcasting the next instalment of our FE college roadshows, co-produced by the students and sponsored by Pearson BTEC & Apprenticeships. 

Watch the show Friday at 4pm on FE News. Don’t forget to subscribe, you can listen in playback to all our episodes where you usually get your podcasts or at

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