Oliver O’Hanlon
22 October 2013

Post-Party Conference 2013 Briefing


Little new policy was announced in Education Secretary Michael Gove’s conference speech. He did make references to how his reforms were tackling youth unemployment “head on” and mentioned the increase in take-up of science A-levels.

Erstwhile shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg (the post now filled by Tristram Hunt after the reshuffle) reaffirmed Labour’s commitment to a “Gold Standard Technical Baccalaureate and high esteem vocational qualifications at 18”; introduce higher standards for teachers in Further Education colleges; introduce accredited work experience placements by 18 years old with a work placement being conditional to achieving the Technical Baccalaureate; and ensuring that Ofsted places a greater emphasis on careers advice during its inspections.

The Liberal Democrats’ policy paper ‘Learning for Life (Education and Skills from Upper Secondary to Lifelong Learning)’ was formally approved. It sets out a raft of measures for 14-18 years education including equality between vocational and academic routes of learning with greater freedom to move between courses, tailoring learning to the individual’s needs, and pre-apprenticeship training.  It also sets out commitments to improve careers guidance in schools including giving greater powers to Ofsted to comment on schools’ and colleges’ careers provision and quality of work experience; a legal requirement to provide work experience for 14-16 year olds; face-to-face careers guidance online; and a streamlined and professional careers body throughout education that can accredit advisers.


The Liberal Democrats’ policy paper ‘Learning for Life (Education and Skills from Upper Secondary to Lifelong Learning)’ also called for increased public spending on apprenticeships and an increase in the numbers going to train in small and medium sized enterprises; an “expansion of higher level and professional apprenticeships”; and a cross-party Commission to look at adult further education provision after 2015.

Stephen Twigg stated Labour’s commitment to making apprenticeships part of any formal public procurement process.  Labour leader Ed Miliband said that Labour would make UK firms take on a UK citizen for every foreign worker they employed, which he said could create up to 125,000 new apprenticeships over the course of five years. There was a commitment from the shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna to improve vocational skills and increase apprenticeship numbers, involving the implementation of the recommendations from the May 2013 Skills Taskforce report that all apprenticeships are Level 3 qualifications and last a minimum of two years. He further announced that Mike Wright the Executive Director of Jaguar Land Rover will be undertaking a review of manufacturing supply chains in the UK.

In several fringe events Labour Peer Lord Adonis raised the issue of youth unemployment, and set a challenge to industry, and science and engineering organisations to increase the number of young people under the age of 21 they employed.  His review of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills from earlier in 2013 concluded that the it was “simply not fit for purpose in its recruitment and training” because as the Department responsible for apprenticeships it “should be leading the nation by offering large numbers of apprenticeship, particularly to under 21 year olds”. Current it has only 19 apprenticeships from more than 2,500 employees. 

In his conference speech David Cameron gave an indication of the government’s position on education and youth unemployment, saying that “we want a new expectation: as you leave school you have a choice – go to university or do an apprenticeship”.  He also wanted to see “more students studying proper science” and to have a Technical Colleges “in every single major town”.

Chancellor, George Osborne gave encouragement to small businesses in the form on a National Insurance cut from April 2014 to encourage more job opportunities and the provision of a ‘Help to Work’ programme of community work placements and intensive job search for those who reach the end of the two-year Work Programme still unemployed.

Higher Education and Science

During the Labour Party conference Shabana Mahmood said that Labour is considering whether to put in place a ten-year science investment framework in 2015.  The post-conference reshuffle saw Shabana Mahmood MP move from the science and higher education brief to the shadow Treasury team.  Liam Byrne will step in as the new shadow Minister for Universities, Skills and Science, making that three shadow science ministers in the last 12 months.

At the Conservative Party conference George Osborne said that “I don’t want to see other nations pushing the frontiers of science and invention and commerce”.  Universities and Science Minister David Willetts announced that over a billion pounds a year will be invested in new labs and facilities to 2020. Further announcements included extending fee loans to part-time STEM students who already have a degree in a different discipline. Investment will include £200 million in new teaching facilities for science and engineering matched with private money from universities. Also in the post-conference reshuffle, Skills Minister Matthew Hancock added another responsibility to his brief, becoming the Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise (the role will continue to be under duel responsibility with the Department for Education).

The Liberal Democrats’ policy paper ‘Learning for Life (Education and Skills from Upper Secondary to Lifelong Learning)’called for a review in next Parliament on the impact of the current funding system on access and stated a commitment to raising student numbers in higher education and lifting cap on numbers over time, including an additional 20,000 STEM foundation degrees. Further commitments to greater financial help for students wanting to undertake taught postgraduate courses with maintenance loans for full-time further education students on Level 3 STEM courses; and allowing international students to stay for up to three years if they are in graduate-level employment were expressed. 


George Osborne said that he wanted to “go on investing in the essential infrastructure of our country - the roads and railways and science and communications that are the backbone of the future economy.”


At the Liberal Democrat Conference both the Business Secretary, Vince Cable and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander spoke positively about the economic and wider benefits that immigration brings to Britain. However Vince Cable told the conference that international students are getting the impression that they are not welcome in the UK and are enrolling in universities in the USA and elsewhere. Cable also mentioned that the UK’s status as a destination for investment from overseas business could be “compromised by careless talk” from other parts of government who want the UK to leave the European Union and that businesses wanting to invest in the UK were looking to take their money elsewhere. This has been an issue raised by the Science Council and member bodies in submissions to the Migration Advisory Committee’s consultation on the Shortage Occupation List in September 2012.

In his speech David Cameron said that “we must act on immigration directly too – and we are. Capping immigration. Clamping down on the bogus colleges. And when the Immigration Bill comes before Parliament, we will make sure some simple and fair things, that should have always been the case, are now set in stone.” According to the Home Office the Immigration Bill will require temporary migrants, such as overseas students, who have only ‘time-limited’ immigration status, to make a financial contribution to public services.

In its ‘Prosperous, Sustainable and Secure (Europe Policy)’ paper Liberal Democrats formalised the Party’s commitment to continue to pursuing global and bilateral trade agreements; encourage greater use of EU apprenticeship scheme; taking lead on EU innovation agenda; and channelling Common Agricultural Policy funding to research into sustainable food production, climate change and water management.

Other announcements

The Liberal Democrats’ ‘Green Growth and Green Jobs’ policy paper made a commitment to strengthen the UK’s ‘green growth’ policy framework by promoting low-carbon innovation, supporting new technologies and developing and retaining a skilled and flexible workforce.  It also stated that decisions on shale gas exploration to be made on a local basis.

In his conference speech Ed Miliband stated that Labour will have a “world leading commitment in government to take all of the carbon out of our energy by 2030” and develop “A route map to one million new green jobs in our country”.

Science Council Fringe Events

The Science Council hosted fringe events at all three Party Conferences. The events were titled ‘Innovation Nation: the future of UK science’ and were held in partnership with the Institute of Physics, Royal Society of Chemistry and Society of Biology.  The well-attend drinks receptions were designed to showcase some of the most innovative science taking place in Scotland, the North East, South West and elsewhere in the UK.  Universities showcasing their latest research included Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and Sussex. Two high-tech companies, Elekta Ltd, and Laser Quantum were also in attendance to display their latest innovations.

Speakers included Dr Jenny Woods, a scientist and committee member of the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists; Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, a Labour Party peer and shadow Business, Innovation and Skills spokesperson; and George Freeman MP, the Government’s Life Science Adviser.  The events provided members of the science and public affairs communities with an opportunity to network with each other and with party members.  Across all three events, key areas of discussion for the Party representative included the importance of skills investment in vocational qualifications, apprenticeships and non-graduate routes into science careers; the importance of improving the technician workforce; and the need to focus more on the regional skills agenda.  

Other science fringe events

Notwithstanding the Science Council’s events, science focused fringe events were in greater supply than in previous years.  Also hosting fringe events were the Chemical Industries Association (Will the EU wreck the UK’s chances of a manufacturing and scientific future?); the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (Why invest in UK life sciences?); the Enterprise Forum & Semta (Engineering skills for the future); the Nuclear Industry Association (Powering Britain: how low carbon technologies can contribute to a sustained economic recovery?); and the Royal Society, British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering and Academy of Medical Sciences (Can research and innovation fuel the UK economy?).  The Reform think tank hosted roundtables titled “Science as a catalyst for growth” which were attended by the Science Council, and the polling company IPSOS/Mori partnered with the Royal Statistical Society and the Alliance for Useful Evidence to host events titled “What works: How do we get more evidence informed policy?”.

Education and skills fringe events

There was a strong focus in the fringe events across all three conferences on skills and education from a wide range of organisations: print media (Guardian, New Statesman); think tanks (Work Foundation; Demos; Reform; IPPR Million+) and charities (Peabody; Carers UK).  A small number of events were hosted by university-affiliated organisations, and concentrated on the role/importance of universities to the UK economy.  However most of the fringe events related to the skills and education agenda focused on vocational education, apprenticeships, career guidance and unemployed youth (for example The Guardian and BPP “The Future of Apprenticeships”; Demos & MBDA “Unleashing talent: Promoting Vocational Training in the UK”; Reform “Skills and Apprenticeships: building employment and careers”; and The Charted Institute of Personnel and Development “Employers Are From Mars, Young People Are From Venus: The role of Careers Guidance in Bridging the Gap”).

Post-Conference Reshuffle

Conservative Party

  • Minister of State for Skills, Matthew Hancock MP becomes Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise
  • Esther McVey MP becomes Minister for Employment at the Department for Work and Pensions

Labour Party

  • Tristram Hunt MP replaces Stephen Twigg MP as shadow Education Secretary
  • Liam Byrne MP replaces Shabana Mahmood MP as shadow Minister for Universities, Skills and Science
  • Gloria De Piero MP becomes shadow Minister for Women and Equalities 

Analysis from the archive