MPs rank vocational sector low

13th December 1996 at 00:00
Vocational education is a low priority among MPs and general election candidates of all parties, compared to other education sectors, according to a survey commissioned by engineers.

When asked which sector of education a new government should prioritise, almost two-thirds (59 per cent) of MPs and candidates of all parties said "nursery and primary". Just 16 per cent of Labour and seven per cent of Conservative MPs and candidates said vocational education should be the main educational priority.

The findings are taken from a survey conducted for the Engineering Employers' Federation by the Opinion Research Business (ORB) into the views of MPs and candidates, about the engineering industry and issues important to it.

But when the question was asked in a different way, the responses were different. When asked which three policy areas should be given the highest priority by an incoming government, 77 per cent of Labour respondents said "increased investment in training". This was by far the most popular option, ahead of: keeping interest rates low (40 per cent); development of a modern effective transport infrastructure, keeping inflation low and more emphasis on regional development (all cited by 37 per cent).

Conservative MPs and candidates ranked "increased spending on training" tenth out of 13 policy priority areas. Just nine per cent of Conservatives said it should be a priority, placing it just one place ahead of: increasing public spending (five per cent). The top three Conservative policy priorities are: keeping inflation low; keeping interest rates low, and encouraging a flexible labour market.

Graham Mackenzie, director-general of the EEF said: "The EEF deplores the lack of priority given to vocational education. Given the emergence of skills shortages in some sectors and industries, this is not an industry-friendly approach. UK engineering and manufacturing needs highly qualified, highly skilled people to enable it to compete in world markets into the next millennium. Making vocational education the poor relation will only make UK plc the poor relation in the long run."

The survey polled 112 MPs and candidates (57 Conservatives, of whom 29 are MPs), 43 Labour (of whom 31 are MPs), and 12 from other parties (of whom eight are MPs).

ONE IN FOUR respondents does not have O-level maths, but candidates are far more likely than sitting MPs to have it (86 per cent, against 68 per cent).

Seventeen per cent of MPs and candidates have graduated in a science-based subject, and a further four per cent in engineering. Fewer than 10 per cent have a technical qualification.

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