MOST of Theresa May’s high-profile education speech this week was typical Tory fayre, big on Victorian-style values and at least a bit condescending. However, it was fascinating to watch the Prime Minister highlight, and seemingly lament, the burden of student debt.

The Conservatives do not always show a great deal of self-awareness as they lecture to the electorate on all sorts of issues with a “we know best” tone. Nevertheless, Mrs May’s focus on student debt was remarkable.

In part, she appeared to mention student debt in the context of her apparent suggestion that significant numbers of middle-class youngsters were going to university merely because this is what people expected of them, as she expounded on the benefits of “technical education”.

While student choice is obviously important, this was certainly among the most patronising parts of her speech, which is saying something, with Mrs May’s comments in this regard seeming to relate mainly to the needs of private sector employers rather than individuals.

In any case, what made her reference to student debt fascinating was that it was the Conservatives, with the help of u-turning Liberal Democrats, who hiked annual tuition fees in England from £3,000 to £9,000 in the early part of this decade. So Mrs May appears to be fretting over a student debt problem that has arisen in large part from Conservative policy.

She has instigated a review, always a favourite of the politicians when looking at difficult issues.

However, on the tuition fees front, Mrs May surely does not need a review to tell her how this problem might be solved.

She could just take a look north of the Border, or ask First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for some advice during one of their meetings about the Brexit shambles.

What is crucial when it comes to student choice in relation to higher education is that university tuition fees for a first degree are paid for by the state.

This is what actually gives people from all backgrounds the maximum chance of pursuing a university education, if that is what they desire.

It is also, ultimately, good for employers, productivity, and the overall economy.

When it comes to university education, narrowing the talent pool by making entry easier for those with the ability to pay, while excluding those who cannot or are worried about taking on excessive debt, is the worst possible route. However, that is the one the Conservatives have chosen south of the Border with their tuition fee hike which came into effect in 2012.

Thankfully, it is one the Scottish Government has pledged not to go down.

It is all very well for the Conservatives, some of them in ivory towers, to talk about helping the poorest get into university and assume that everyone else can pay the fees. Some of these politicians will be people who pay private school fees anyway, and therefore see little difference when their children go on to university, in terms of keeping a similar level of direct debit going.

People from the lowest-income families should certainly be given all the help possible to pursue a university education. To fail to do so would be detrimental not only to these people’s opportunities but also to society and the economy. Why should people be excluded and the country miss out on all they have to contribute because they are unable to afford a higher education?

While this is understandably the focus of much of public policy, it is important to remember vast numbers of parents from households in the wide middle-income bracket are also unable to pay university fees for their children, regardless of how much they might want to.

So, where tuition fees are not met by the state, many young people have to decide between taking a different route – because their choice has been curtailed by this public policy failure – or going to university and accumulating huge debt.

We should also not underestimate the scale of the burden of university-related debt for young people, given this will make it even more difficult for them to get a foot on the ladder towards the red-hot housing market. And let us not forget that the lamentable erosion of pension provision, mainly by companies but also in the public sector, will mean young people will have to put far more of their money aside for their eventual retirement than the baby boomer generation.

A country of debt-laden students and ultimately impoverished pensioners is not going to have a strong economy.

If talented individuals wish to, and cannot, pursue a university education, the country’s skills base will be eroded. That is a simple fact.

Mrs May must remember that, for all her talk of a technical education route that it must be noted will suit some school-leavers, going to university can give many people the sort of wider perspectives that are crucial to their future careers and broader economic success.

It must not all be about giving people very specific skills to meet the needs of a particular employer – such training can be given on the job through the likes of a graduate training scheme.

And, given the brain drain the UK is facing as a result of Brexit, the last thing we need to do is damage the country’s skills base further. This brain drain is being felt across the economy. Universities themselves will also have to ensure they attract the brightest talent, from all backgrounds, as they strive in coming years to plug the likes of key research posts filled previously by people from overseas who are no longer attracted by the insular Brexit Britain.

The Scottish Government’s policy of providing free university tuition for young people who live and study north of the Border gives Scotland a major advantage over England in terms of future skills and productivity.

Mrs May should not need a review to tell her free university tuition is one of the solutions to her very long list of problems.