Predictably, the number of student places will need to be restricted in some way to constrain state expenditure on student financial support. David Willetts, the universities and science minister, admitted as much in his speech to the Universities UK spring conference in February, and sought input from the higher education sector to inform the debate.
In this light, it would be useful if we established a few guiding principles. How about the following?
First, that everyone who has the potential should be able to benefit from higher education - as advocated initially by Lord Robbins and more recently by Lord Browne of Madingley.
Second, that government policy for the academy should promote equity and so help to widen participation - as recommended by Lord Dearing.
These guiding principles would blow out of the water Alasdair Smith's proposal that the third of university students without Universities and Colleges Admissions Service tariff points should be denied university places on equal terms with those with 120 or more Ucas points.
These students are not necessarily unqualified, as Smith suggests. Some have overseas qualifications and others have mostly professional level 3 qualifications, not currently recognised in the Ucas tariff system. Others will be mature students, with all the work experience and capabilities employers crave, who want to reskill - exactly the sort of people the government wants to encourage into higher education.
As Higher Education Supply and Demand to 2020, the recent Higher Education Policy Institute report on these issues, indicates: "It is one of the strengths of the UK's higher education system - and a feature that sets it apart from most others in Europe - that such second chance higher education is possible."
Claire Callender, Professor of higher education, Birkbeck, University of London and the Institute of Education, University of London
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