Tories want to replace 'rip-off degrees' with 100,000 new apprentices a year

The Conservatives will promise to replace "rip-off degrees" with 100,000 apprenticeships each year by the end of the next parliament if they win the general election.

Rishi Sunak will outline the plan on Wednesday to replace the "worst performing" courses with high-skilled apprenticeships, which they say will provide "more opportunities and greater financial security".

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Making the announcement, Mr Sunak will say: "Improving education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet for boosting life chances. So, it's not fair that some university courses are ripping young people off.

"Thanks to our plan, apprenticeships are much higher quality than they were under Labour. And now we will create 100,000 more, by putting an end to rip-off degrees and offering our young people the employment opportunities and financial security they need to thrive.

"That's the choice at this election - the Conservatives with our clear plan to grow the economy and give people the opportunities they need for a secure future, or Labour who have no plan and would take us back to square one."

A new law will grant powers to the Office for Students to identify the courses with the highest dropout rates, the least progression to graduate jobs and the lowest earnings potential, and then close them.

The party will then continue its existing measures to "boost uptake" of apprenticeships - including funding the cost of training some young apprentices at small and medium-sized businesses - as well as working with the creative sector to find new routes for people to train.

But while the Conservatives boasted about delivering 5.8 million apprenticeships since taking office in 2010, Labour claimed the party had halved the number offered since 2015.

Labour's shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: "It is laughable that the Tories, who have presided over a halving of apprenticeships for young people, are now announcing this.

"Why on earth should parents and young people believe they'll create training opportunities now, after 14 years of failing to deliver opportunities for young people and the skills needed to grow our economy?"

The Liberal Democrats also condemned the Conservatives' policy announcement, with their education spokesperson Munira Wilson saying the party had "broken the apprenticeship system".

"The shockingly low pay for those on apprenticeships will remain, doing nothing to encourage more people to take apprenticeships up or tackle soaring dropout rates," she added.

"This treatment of apprentices as second-class workers will only continue under the Conservatives."

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Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey will be launching his party's local campaign in Wales on Wednesday, committing £1bn of extra funding for agriculture.

He will say: "British farmers are the best in the business, but Conservative neglect has left too many farmers on their knees. Rishi Sunak takes farmers for granted.

"This election gives Wales the opportunity of a lifetime to show the Conservatives the door, by voting for Liberal Democrats who will champion the best of Welsh farming."

Labour will be focusing its campaign on the NHS, with Sir Keir Starmer pledging to clear the backlog of patients waiting over 18 weeks for NHS treatment within five years.

Measures will include doubling the number of scanners, using spare capacity in the private sector - without charge for patients - and delivering what Labour claims to be "the biggest expansion of NHS staff in history".

Meanwhile, the SNP will be calling on Labour to bring the railways back into public ownership if they win the next election and introduce a major infrastructure investment package to "reverse cuts imposed by the Tories".

At a campaign event, First Minister John Swinney will say: "Keir Starmer has spent his entire career running away from traditional left of centre values like public ownership - and taken left wing voters for granted by lurching to the right and adopting Tory policies.

"But we cannot afford more of the same - Westminster has inflicted austerity, Brexit and a cost of living crisis on the people of Scotland - and it is time for a genuine alternative."