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Universities face fines if disadvantaged students don’t pass

The Sunday Times has revealed that universities which do not increase the participation and pass rates of disadvantaged students may be fined. The proposals, which are due to be announced later this week, are part of the government’s plan to increase the standard of teaching at UK universities.

The new plans state that several measures must be taken by universities if they wish to avoid financial penalties. These include preventing first year students from disadvantaged backgrounds from failing their first of study, and helping working-class graduates to find good jobs or further education.

Universities must also recruit more disadvantaged students onto their courses. If these targets are not met, universities will be prevented from raising their tuition fees in accordance with the rate of inflation, and may also face cuts to funding.

Jo Johnson, universities minister, has said that judgement of universities will now be influenced by the level of progress their disadvantaged students make. This will be done by, “measuring, for example, their retention rates and the universities’ success in moving students on to further study or graduate work.”

The Sunday Times has reported that this new approach could have a huge impact on funding of universities that have, in the past, relied on their high levels of research and long-standing reputations. Several elite universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Exeter, Durham, Edinburgh and Bristol are not currently meeting the government target for the proportion of students recruited from state schools, for example.

This drastic action appears to be a way of increasing the number of disadvantaged students entering higher education in line with government guidelines. Johnson has also stated that the new Teaching Excellence Framework will be “intimately” linked with “widening participation and access.”

It is known that the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is trying to increase the diversity of successful students at university, while the Prime Minister has set a target to double the number of disadvantaged students in higher education by the year 2020. It has been quoted that lower-income students are currently 2.5 times less likely to progress to university than their better-off peers.

Earlier this year, Professor Madeleine Atkins, Chief Executive of HEFCE, expressed the importance of increasing the numbers and success of disadvantaged students in higher education. She said: “We should now focus on establishing which interventions are working most effectively to educate the graduates the country needs. HEFCE will work with universities and colleges to implement methods to evaluate what kinds of activities work best across the whole student lifecycle and into employment.” She also stated that the work done in this area would be used in the Teaching Excellence Framework.

Although at an early stage, the planned proposal has received a mixed response. Some have praised the move, suggesting that it may force universities to place greater emphasis on attracting students from state schools.

Other members of the public, however, have expressed doubt toward how effective the move would be. There have been concerns that university staff will be tempted to pass lower-performing students due to the financial incentive, creating an imbalance in how much work is expected of the students.

Michael Spence, Education Officer at the Students’ Union, expressed concern that the government was continuing to increase the cost of higher education while making these attempts to help the less well-off.

“Supporting students from lower income backgrounds is of paramount importance,” he said. “However, I seriously doubt this government’s commitment to these students. They are doing this in the context of (once again) raising fees, abolishing maintenance grants and freezing the threshold for new graduates.”

More details of the plans are due to be announced in a green paper later this week.

Tags: disadvantaged students, fines, HEFCE, tef, universities, working class

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