Rishi Sunak has vowed to phase out university degrees that do not improve students’ “earning potential” and create a Russell Group of technical colleges.
The Tory leadership hopeful said his plans to reform post-16 education marked “a significant stride towards parity of esteem between vocational and academic education”.
If he becomes the next prime minister, Mr Sunak would strengthen networks of technical institutions and their links with industry, as well as giving them powers to award degrees, his campaign said.
The former chancellor would assess university degrees through their drop-out rates, numbers in graduate jobs and salary thresholds, with exceptions for nursing and other courses with high social value.
In an apparent bid to appeal to the right, Mr Sunak’s campaign said he would also expedite the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which is currently in the House of Lords.
The Government has argued the Bill is needed to tackle growing intolerance in universities, but opponents have said it aims to address a problem that does not exist and could protect hate speech.
Sunak also pledged to improve professional development for teachers, commit to plans to open 75 new free schools announced by the Government in June, and give school trusts an “accountability holiday” for two years after taking on underperforming schools.
He would also work to expand the use of artificial intelligence and digital technology in classrooms and to reduce teachers’ workloads.
Mr Sunak said: “A good education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet when it comes to making people’s lives better.
“These proposals represent a significant stride towards parity of esteem between vocational and academic education. And they will take a tougher approach to university degrees that saddle students with debt, without improving their earning potential.
“I will also take bold, practical steps to build on the successful Conservative education reforms of the past decade by harnessing technology and improving the quality of teaching in underperforming areas.
“Every child deserves a world-class education and, if I become prime minister, I will make it my mission from day one to ensure that’s what they get.”
After private schooling at Winchester College, where he was head boy, and a degree in politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford, Mr Sunak took an MBA at Stanford University in California.
As part of her plans for education, Sunak’s Tory leadership rival Liz Truss has pledged to replace failing academies with new free schools, and promised that pupils with top A level grades would get an automatic invitation to apply for Oxbridge and other prestigious universities.