RISHI Sunak’s bid to outlaw university degrees that don’t increase students' earning potential is a cynical ploy to “play to the Tory grassroots gallery”, the Scottish education secretary has said.

The Tory leadership contender vowed to reform post-16 education as part of his bid to win votes to become the next prime minister and pledged to introduce a British Baccalaureate, in England, to stop 16-year-old pupils from dropping maths and English.

Shirley-Anne Somerville said that the plans show the Tories are “not looking at education seriously” and that some degrees are more valuable than earning potential alone.

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It comes as Scottish secondary students are set to receive their results for the first in-person exams on Tuesday since the pandemic began.

The former chancellor said he would assess university degrees through their drop-out rates, numbers of graduate jobs and salary thresholds, with exceptions put in place for nursing and other courses with high social value.

Sunak’s campaign also said he would expedite the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which is currently in the House of Lords, in a bid to appeal to the right of the Tory membership.

The UK 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.

The National: Sunak has vowed to reform education for students aged 16 and overSunak has vowed to reform education for students aged 16 and over

Launching the policy, Sunak said: “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.”

Higher education is devolved in Scotland, and university tuition fees are free, unlike in England where students have to pay £9250 for each year of their degree.

On Sunak’s plans to outlaw degrees which don’t increase students' future earnings, the specifics of which have not yet been revealed, Somerville said she did not agree with his assessment.

She told The National: “I think both the Conservative leadership contenders are playing to the Tory grassroots gallery and what they're actually not looking at is education seriously.

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“We have young people going through colleges and universities through a myriad of different courses that will set them up on different paths for life and, and we need to look at what's right for the economy, what's right for society, and what education is for.

“I think to be fair, I think he's just playing to his own gallery in an attempt to see what he can do to cling on to a chance of winning.”

Asked if she agrees that the main focus of degrees should be earning potential, Somerville said: “Young people will look at that as they choose a university degree that's one of the things, of course, people can bear in mind, but there's a lot more to education than that.

“It's about helping society. It's about what education is all about, and I think we should trust our young people, trust our universities and colleges to be able to deliver what's the right opportunities for our children and young people.”

The National: Somerville made the comments at the launch of an exam results helpline for Scottish pupilsSomerville made the comments at the launch of an exam results helpline for Scottish pupils

Both Sunak and his opponent Liz Truss have made several policy announcements relating to education in recent days.

Truss has suggested changing the academic calendar to allow university terms to start in January instead of August, and proposed that all students with three A* at A-level should automatically be given an interview with Oxford or Cambridge as a way of improving access.

The Foreign Secretary’s campaign team also said she would reform admissions to allow students to apply for university places after they receive their exam results.

Sunak’s campaign team have been contacted for comment.