Political parties have clashed over a Conservative plan to scrap university degrees to fund apprenticeships, with fears of the impact it could have on the 1,600 plus jobs at Reading University.

The Conservatives are proposing to scrap one in eight undergraduate degrees and fund 100,000 new apprenticeships instead if they maintain power following the general election on July 4.

The party has argued that ‘Mickey Mouse’ university degrees are not setting up graduates for careers, which apprenticeships could help with.

But fears have been raised that this could result in hundreds of job losses at universities across the country if implemented.

Labour has raised concerns over the plans, with there being little detail about what it would mean for universities such as Reading Uni, which provides hundreds of courses, and employs 1,610 staff.

READ MORE: Clash in Reading suburbs as main political parties select candidates for battleground MP seat 

Of those, 1,595 professionals and 15 managers, directors and senior officials, according to employee statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency. 

Fearing the worst Labour has argued that hundreds of staff could be affected by the Conservative policy if taken forwards. 

Yuan Yang, Labour’s candidate for the Earley and Woodley constituency, has demanded that the Government come clean on the consequences of the Conservatives’ latest announcement for students and staff at the University of Reading.

Reading Chronicle: Yuan Yang, the chair of the Earley and Woodley Labour Party and a prospective MP candidate. Credit: Yuan YangYuan Yang, the chair of the Earley and Woodley Labour Party and a prospective MP candidate. Credit: Yuan Yang

Labour also claim that apprenticeships have been ‘hollowed out under the Conservatives’ citing data that half as many young people under 19 are completing apprenticeships since 2015, and apprenticeship starts for under 19s have dropped 41 per cent from 131,420 to 77,720.

Yuan Yang, Labour’s candidate in Earley and Woodley, said: “Students and university staff have suffered hugely under the Conservative government, and will only suffer further with these half-baked plans.

“Which courses at the University of Reading are going to be cut? How many job losses will there be? How many local businesses in Reading will feel the pinch as students stay away?”

Hitting back, Pauline Jorgensen, Conservative Party parliamentary candidate for Earley and Woodley, blasted Yuan for talking down the university and the Conservative project to provide more apprenticeships.

Reading Chronicle: Pauline Jorgensen (Credit: Nick Clark, LDRS)Pauline Jorgensen (Credit: Nick Clark, LDRS)

Councillor Jorgensen said: “It is shocking that the Labour candidate for Earley and Woodley has managed to simultaneously talk down the University of Reading and the quality of it’s degrees, attack our plans to ensure all young people get the education they deserve, and has refused to back the Conservatives’ plan to deliver 100,000 more apprenticeships.

“This is yet more nonsense from the party that neglected apprenticeships when they were last in office and plan to halve them if they get into power.

“Every year under the Conservatives we’ve delivered more apprenticeship starts than any year under Labour.”

Cllr Jorgensen (Conservatives, Hillside) is the leader of the opposition on Wokingham Borough Council.

Meanwhile, Tahir Maher, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Earley and Woodley said: “This once again shows that the Conservatives have run out of ideas; if this government had serious plans, why wait until now to suggest this? They’ve floated this before, but with no real detail.

“This proposal is problematic for several reasons, including the possible loss of academic expertise from universities like Reading. How would they objectively evaluate courses to remove?

“This is to say nothing of the risk to universities’ independence.”

Reading Chronicle: Tahir Maher, right, and guests at the Reading Pakistani Community Centre Christmas Party. Credit: James Aldridge, Local Democracy Reporting ServiceTahir Maher, right, and guests at the Reading Pakistani Community Centre Christmas Party. Credit: James Aldridge, Local Democracy Reporting Service

Mr Maher added that the arts sector is a ‘crucial part of the economy’ in Earley and Woodley, adding £108 billion to the UK, with developments such as Shinfield Studios providing a huge boost to the area.

He added: “The Conservatives forget that almost everyone reads books, watches films and listens to music to unwind – is the government seriously considering gutting these vital subjects?

“The reason for making a change such as this should be that it will be a better alternative – the government has provided no evidence that this would be the case.

“The lack of thought on this only suggests that this is an election gimmick that will damage our university community and the economy and culture it supports.

“The Liberal Democrats have no truck with this proposal. We should be funding universities like Reading properly across all subject areas. They need a fair deal, not more cuts or being used as as political footballs.”

The University of Reading straddles two of the new parliamentary constituencies, with parts of it landing in the Earley and Woodley constituency, with the Reading Borough Council wards of Redlands and Park falling in the Reading Central constituency.