Government plans to ditch target of 50% of young people in England going to university

On 9 July 2020 UCAS announced that a record 40.5% of all 18-year-olds in the UK have applied to go to university, with numbers rising significantly during lockdown. It is the first time that more than four out of 10 students (40.5%) had applied by 30 June 2020 to go to university and the figures will offer some comfort to universities bracing themselves for the Covid-19 aftershock. At the same point in the admissions cycle last year, the figure was 38.9%, and UCAS points out that between mid-March and the end of June, when the pandemic was at its height in the UK, applications rose by 17%.

Later on the same day the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson criticised the idea of wanting half of all young people to go on to higher education, describing it as an “absurd mantra” and signalling an end to a pledge made by Tony Blair in the 1990s that has been supported by successive governments. The education secretary said he wanted to see a revolution in further education and vocational training in England, and updated Blair’s motto, saying: “From now on, our mantra must be further education, further education, further education.” His speech was a preview of the Department for Education’s white paper on post-school education to be published in autumn, which aims to overhaul the types of qualifications offered by colleges.

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