AN MP is championing plans to allow 50,000 would-be graduates to leave university free of debt.
Southampton Itchen MP John Denham, pictured, is proposing to allow people already working to have their degrees funded jointly by the Government and their existing employers.
Mr Denham is expected to outline the plans in a lecture to the Royal Society of Arts on January 16 as part of a drive to tailor courses more closely to the needs of business and young people.
The former Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills is pushing for the measures as part of the Labour Party’s review into its policies ahead of the 2015 General Election.
Mr Denham says the Government’s financial contribution will be found by redirecting money currently spent on writing off unpayable student debt from fees and maintenance loans.
“Graduates in England face the world’s most expensive public higher education, yet too many degrees don’t deliver what students or employers want,” he is expected to say at the lecture.
“Huge sums of public money are wasted writing off unpayable debts, and paying living costs for students, who would rather have jobs.
“When money is tight we must look at how higher education can offer a better deal for students and employers, not just at ways of forcing graduates to pay ever more.”
Under the scheme the courses would carry no fees and the in-work students would receive a wage or training allowance from their employer while studying.
Students would be able to study hard over two years or mix it with work and so take longer to get their qualification.
The plans are a development of the last Labour Government’s workforce development programme that created 20,000 degree places, which was then ditched by the Coalition.
The ideas have been welcomed by the Confederation of British Industry.
Katja Hall, CBI policy director, said: “The UK needs to vastly increase the stock of workers with higher level skills to drive longterm growth and stop us falling behind our competitors. We need to tackle the perception that the A-levels and three-year degree model is the only route to a good career.
“When faced with £27,000 debt young people are already becoming much savvier in shopping around for routes to give them the competitive edge in a tighter job market.
“Universities must be much more innovative to take advantage of the change in students’ approach.
“And we need businesses to roll up their sleeves and expand high-quality alternative routes where degrees are not the best option.”