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Major reform of the UK’s university system could help to build a “richer, fairer country”, according to Liam Byrne.

In a new pamphlet setting out his party’s plans for the future of higher education, the Shadow Universities Minister claims that there is now a choice between watching the current system “slowly go bust” or taking a different route.

He suggests that revamping the current system will help to improve Britain’s “knowledge economy” and open up new technical and professional jobs to people from all backgrounds.

There should be more partnerships between universities and schools, colleges, local councils, employers, science and research bodies, he writes.

In the document, published by the Social Market Foundation (SMF), Mr Byrne also argues that work is needed to provide clear routes for youngsters who take apprenticeships and other alternative qualifications to A-levels to go on and study for a degree.

He sets out 10 ideas for debate, including how to continue to improve access to university, whether there should be a “student premium” to encourage youngsters from poorer backgrounds to study for a degree, how to expand degrees that allow students to “earn while you learn” and how to ensure that postgraduate study does not become the new barrier to access.

It also puts forward questions on research, including how to support a growing global network of research that connects universities and researchers.

As the document was published, Mr Byrne said: “The choice in higher education is now clear. Watch the university system slowly go bust and lose its place as a global science leader, or choose a different path.”