In a speech outlining the priorities for Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, Queen Elizabeth II elucidated initiatives on more equal education funding, plans to improve higher education, and changes to educational opportunities for prisoners.
The Queen’s Speech on Wednesday brought forth some of the most significant reforms to prisons in a century. Inmates will be given more resources to pursue education in an attempt to reduce rates of recidivism, which will include giving prisoners technology such as iPads to engage in independent learning within their cells. The tablet computers — part of an initiative the Queen described as giving prisoners “unprecedented freedom” — will also facilitate communication with family via Skype.
An editorial from The Independent welcomes changes to the country’s approach to prisons, but remains skeptical. After lauding the proposals, the editorial board asked:
“But haven’t we been here before? The coalition government promised a “rehabilitation revolution” in 2010 that never materialised… Our prisons may not cope with another six years of broken promises.”
The Queen’s inclusion of changes to the higher education sector may be even more important. The proposed Higher Education and Research Bill covers new territory such as encouraging the opening of new universities — including by private companies — and increased transparency in the university admissions process. Universities will receive funding based on quality of teaching rather than enrollments, and they will have to provide more detailed statistics about student demographics.
Dame Julia Goodfellow, the president of Universities UK and also the vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, supported the Queen’s mission to create a more robust higher education sector. She praised the efforts of the UK’s universities while throwing out a warning to those new institutions that might be introduced, saying that those “awarding their own degrees or calling themselves ‘university,'” should be held accountable and to the same level of scrutiny as traditional universities.
The Education for All Bill will also begin to clarify the status of the government’s preference for turning schools into academies. The mandate to turn all schools into academies by 2022 was scrapped just weeks ago, but new laws will allow for greater intervention in expanding academies in the poorest-performing areas. Changes to the education funding formula are also afoot, with the Queen promising that a new formula will ensure “fair funding” for all schools and students.
Cameron’s government has set a mission to improve the lives of those who are most disadvantaged — and that includes getting more of those who are at the lowest socio-economic levels to enter into university. The proposals announced by the Queen would be a first step in diagnosing why universities fail to attract so few disadvantaged students. Young, white, disadvantaged males fare the worst of all demographic subgroups in the United Kingdom, with fewer than 1 in 10 reaching university. Cameron said that, “There are still too many people left behind — and they need deeper, more intensive help.”
The Queen also announced the intent to deliver high-speed broadband internet access to even the most remote areas in Britain, which is the extension of a commitment recently entertained by the government.
Britons can also expect bills that advance a ‘sugar tax’ on sweetened beverages and hefty incentives for individual savings. Low-earners who save up to £50 per month would receive a 50% boost from the government after two years, and the Lifetime ISA program would increase the savings of young people by 25% on amounts up to £4,000 per year.