Education minister opposes Home Office cuts for foreign students

Gillian Keegan, Britain’s education secretary, has signaled she will fight any Home Office attempts to curb migration to the UK by driving out foreign students, and said universities are a “hugely valuable” export success.

Keegan, in an interview with the Financial Times, said she wants to build on Britain’s booming higher education export market and grow education export revenues from around £26 billion to £35 billion by 2030.

“It’s a sector we should be very proud of,” she said. But with 680,000 foreign students enrolled last year, more than the government’s target of 600,000, Home Secretary Suella Braverman is looking at ways to control migration numbers.

Keegan and Braverman met Thursday to discuss options including reviewing foreign students’ eligibility for a two-year work visa and allowing students on “substandard” courses to bring dependents to the UK, officials briefed on the meeting said .

Keegan said she would help the Home Office root out any abuse of the system, noting Tory pledges to reduce migration numbers and saying she wanted to ensure a quality “course offering” for British and overseas students.

But she said of the sector: “It’s a world leader, a great advertisement for our country. We have a strategy that is heavily geared towards increasing sales.” The Ministry of Finance is also opposed to reforms that harm the universities.

students from abroad
UK universities enrolled 680,000 foreign students last year, exceeding the official target of 600,000 © AberCPC/Alamy

Meanwhile, the government is considering giving teachers the opportunity to qualify through apprenticeships to fill the understaffing in schools and achieve Rishi Sunak’s goal of getting all children in England to 18 maths classes.

The education secretary left school at 16 to start an apprenticeship at a Liverpool car factory and said opening a similar path for teachers would “broaden” access to the profession.

Keegan, who became the fifth Education Secretary in four months in October, was an enthusiastic supporter of vocational training, arguing that apprenticeships would fill labor shortages across the UK economy.

While stressing that the idea is still in its early stages, Keegan said an apprenticeship could encourage more people into a career. The government introduced a medical training path this year.

“We can get people who have second careers to earn and learn,” she said. “It would also change attitudes towards apprenticeships in schools.”

Currently, most teachers in England graduate from university and then go on to teacher training. Keegan’s path would provide an option to replace the traditional college route with college-level apprenticeships including on-the-job training.

“If you’re going to solve the problem of how you’re going to teach math and physics to 18-year-olds, you don’t necessarily have to be at the level at which you’re going to solve nuclear fusion,” Keegan said.

Last month, Sunak set a target to extend compulsory math studies after 16 in England, in line with the policies of most OECD countries.

School children with their hands up
Gillian Keegan said apprenticeships could encourage more people into careers © Ben Birchall/PA

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said any new qualification should adequately prepare teachers and not “be a means of getting more people through the door by watering down the pathways to teaching”.

As the prime minister prepares a major push to tackle economic inactivity, Keegan also said she hopes apprenticeships could bring people who had left the labor market back into work.

Because trainees can earn money during their apprenticeship, Keegan says the qualification could prove an attractive avenue for older workers to change careers into “community roles” in childcare or mental health support.

Meanwhile, government officials said the Treasury had rejected a proposal by Keegan’s department to extend free childcare to one- and two-year-olds in England – in addition to existing provisions for children aged three to four – because of the £6billion price tag .

Keegan said she wants to make childcare “more affordable and flexible.” The Department of Education has been asked to develop cheaper options to try to get more parents of young children back into the labor market as part of a broader government “inactivity review”.

Keegan began her career as an apprentice and pursued studies alongside work which she believed was the basis of a business career that took her to Tokyo and Madrid and eventually to her role as Tory MP for the safe seat of Chichester.

Keegan’s background has convinced her of the need to improve children’s financial literacy and said expanding compulsory math could provide a platform for better financial education.

The education secretary acknowledges that many teachers lack the confidence to teach these skills and need better training. “Maths up to 18 gives us a chance to see what we can do better,” she said.

She added that her own financial background was instilled in her father, who taught her the economics of hairdressing, Keegan’s original career choice.

Instead, she secured 10 O level at her school, earned a business degree from Liverpool John Moores University and went on to work as an executive for NatWest and Amadeus, a technology company.

Keegan grew up on Merseyside in the 1980s when Liverpool was governed by the far left militant group within the Labor Party and was gripped by strikes. Keegan attended a comprehensive school in the neighboring borough of Knowsley, where she began to develop her political views.

“I desperately think the Conservative answer is the right answer,” she said, arguing that she could see that the left-wing views of arsonist Derek Hatton on Liverpool City Council were not the answer to the city’s problems.

“I wasn’t particularly a Thatcherian,” she said. “I’m really just a pragmatist. Ideology is a luxury, it’s not something most working people have.”

With the Tories at risk of electoral defeat next year, some have touted Keegan as a possible contender for leadership of the party’s moderate wing: a One Nation Scouser representing a solid Southern Tory seat. Keegan voted to remain in the 2016 EU referendum.

She laughs. “Until a few years ago, I never thought of becoming an MP. I was a bit overwhelmed when I was asked to go into the cabinet. I’ve never thought of becoming a PM.”

The idea of ​​becoming an MP came to her when she met Lady Anne Jenkin, a supporter of the Tory candidates, in a London theater during the break The audience – a play about Queen Elizabeth’s relationship with her Prime Ministers, especially Thatcher.

Keegan didn’t know much about politics but ran for a council seat in Liverpool and got to know the NHS as a board member: “I basically designed my own training to become an MP.”

Additional reporting by Jim Pickard Education minister opposes Home Office cuts for foreign students

Adam Bradshaw

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