Universities will have to hit hard targets to ensure the poorest students get into high-paid jobs after they graduate, under new government plans.
Michelle Donelan, Minister for Universities, will direct vice-chancellors to rewrite their access and participation plans, which are updated every five years.
Those who fail to meet their new targets will be unable to charge full fees.
It comes as a study finds that selective universities do a poor job of helping poor students earn more money.
The study, conducted by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the Sutton Trust education charity, compares how many students on free school meals attended each university and went on to earn in the top 20% of earners by the age of 30.
It discovered that newer universities with lower entry requirements help twice as many poor students (2%) get top jobs later in life as older, more selective institutions (1 percent ).
According to the report, this is because they admit more students from lower-income families than universities with higher entry requirements, allowing them to help more disadvantaged students move into good jobs.
- Universities ‘at risk of mis-selling courses’
- ‘Too few’ poor white university students
- Oxford promises 25% of places to disadvantaged
Despite being less prestigious than the highly selective Russell Group of 24 institutions, these modern post-1992 universities continue to produce a large number of top earners.
While students from low-income families do very well in the labour market, Russell Group universities admit very few students who have previously been on free school meals, resulting in what researchers call a lower “mobility rate.”
“We need to make getting on as important as getting in,” Ms Donelan said. Universities will no longer recruit students for courses that lead to dropout, frustration, and unemployment.
“A student’s post-university outcome must be as important to providers as a student’s pre-university grades.”
In 2017, the public accounts committee claimed that the loan and fee system had left many students in debt and questioned whether their degree was “worth the money paid for it.”
Working with schools
The announcement comes as John Blake, a strategic director for academy chain Ark, is named director of fair access and participation at The Office For Students.
His first task will be to reach agreement with universities on these new participation targets. They are expected to be operational by September 2023.
Currently, all universities have targets in place for the percentage of disadvantaged students they must admit.
These are linked to their Access and Participation plans, which are approved every four years by the Office for Students in exchange for the ability to charge maximum fees of £9,250 per year.
Ms. Donelan is now urging universities to do more than simply increase the number of students from low-income families.
They will be required to ensure that these students study courses that will provide them with positive outcomes, though there is little detail on this.
However, the Department of Education claims that this entails reducing dropout rates and assisting poorer students through university to graduation and into high-skilled, well-paid jobs.
Currently, one out of every ten students from low-income families drops out in their first year.
Universities will also be required to collaborate more closely with schools and colleges in order to provide a broader range of students with better qualifications and more options.
According to the DfE, measures could include running a summer school or offering students and lecturers to tutor students.
Furthermore, universities will be required to offer more courses related to skills and flexible learning, such as degree apprenticeships, higher technical qualifications, and part-time courses.
The Russell Group’s chief executive, Dr Tim Bradshaw, stated that the proportion of 18-year-olds attending its universities has increased every year for the last seven years.
“Our universities are looking forward to building on their existing work with schools and colleges, offering a variety of options to young people, including degree apprenticeships, and supporting them through university to graduation and beyond,” he added.