For most of us, the 7th May 2015 is firmly behind us and I am sure many people have forgotten its significance. But if you concentrate, you may recall that in early May of this year the UK was in the midst of a general election. To most people it is a dreary event that occurs once every five years involving copious media coverage and unheard of jargon. The 2015 general election brought the tenuous franken-child coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to an end. Cameron had done ‘the impossible’, his party alone managed to secure a majority of the seats in the House of Commons with a grand total of 330 seats out of the possible 650. I call his party's achievement ‘the impossible’ because all of the opinion polls in the weeks leading up to the election suggested that the Conservatives had no chance of winning a clear majority and thus a single party Tory government seemed extremely unlikely. Some opinion polls suggested that the Conservatives were so unlikely to win a majority that the chances of a hung parliament ranged from 60-100%. A hung parliament would result in either the largest party going into coalition with another, or the general public going back to the polls.
No one saw a slim Conservative majority coming, but the rise of an 'all-Tory' government signified the demise of the Liberal Democrats. The party lost its credibility, and Clegg lost his office. The Lib Dems spectacular fall from grace meant that the traditional 3 party politics in Britain had been changed for the foreseeable future.
So, what does a Tory victory mean for students?
For students in the UK the chiming in of a new government has been forever tainted by the failure of the Lib Dems to abolish higher education tuition fees. The Conservative Party dominated the former coalition from the outset. They forced the Liberal Democrats to abandon their optimistic plan of abolishing tuition fees and this led to widespread outrage among young adults across the UK, resulting in the 2011 student demonstrations.
It is unlikely that anything as drastic as the events of 2011 will reoccur, however. Already the Conservatives have made significant changes to the education system during their brief second term in parliament. Within the Conservative manifesto Cameron and his advisors have outlined their basic plans to overhaul the British education system. Cameron has pledged to turn every ‘coasting’ and failing school into an academy, enabling schools to become funded directly from the central government. This would give greater autonomy from local councils and bureaucratic interference. The manifesto puts particular emphasis on greater discipline within schools by employing properly trained teaching staff who are taught how to deal with disruptive students in order to make schools more efficient and utilise the time spent in the classroom.
For those seeking higher education, Mr Cameron and his party have removed the caps on the number of students that universities can accept and, in doing so, have allowed many more students easier access to higher education. He has asked universities to offer more study-intensive two-year courses, which are quite sensible when most students at university have only 6-14 hours of contact time a week.
Despite a series of ‘magnolia’ educational policies the Conservatives have sprung a few surprises on the unsuspecting British student. Mr Osborne announced in his budget that from 2016, prospective university students who need financial assistance will no longer be given a maintenance grant, instead a larger repayable maintenance loan will be given to students in need of financial support. The government argue that this larger amount of repayable money will be of more use to cash-strapped students compared to the smaller amount of non-repayable money they used to receive. The National Union of Students (NUS), on the other hand, have criticised the government for heaping more debt onto students.
The manifesto also makes provisions for those who do not want to go to university. Understandably, university is not for everyone and the Tories have lined up better quality apprenticeship schemes that pay a sensible wage (because they are exempt from national insurance) to young adults who want to become skilled workers. These schemes will replace lower quality classroom-based qualifications in colleges.
In my opinion the Tory government will not have any real detrimental effects on students in the coming five years. However, without the moderation of another party, like the Lib-Dems in the coalition, no one can say for certain if the Conservatives will abide by their seemingly plausible manifesto pledges.
Original image by Joe Davern