A radical policy to cut drop-out rates at the University of Central England could block access and lead to large-scale course closures, academics fear.
One dean interpreted the policy as meaning that "quality has risen up the agenda and access has fallen slightly", an internal memo reveals.
The "shoot the dogs" policy will mean that any course with a progression rate of below 70 per cent will be classified as a "dog", and susceptible to closure, he feared.
UCE is concerned to address its above-average drop-out rates. Among mature undergraduates it is 22 per cent, compared with a 15 per cent benchmark. This is against a background of relatively low participation among ethnic minorities and low socioeconomic classes, and financial problems that have led the university to drop its "no redundancy" policy.
An internal memo by John Rouse, dean of the faculty of law and social sciences, briefed colleagues on discussions at a recent "deans' awayday". It says UCE "wants to move upmarket and does not simply want to recruit to target and then throw people out".
"A new policy was formulated," Mr Rouse wrote. "Any course with a progression rate below 70 per cent after the September resits is classified as a dog. Courses that persistently demonstrate poor retention rates will be closed and, where necessary, redundancy will follow if staff skills are not needed elsewhere. This is the policy of shoot the dogs."
Courses with progression rates between 70 and 85 per cent will be designated "areas for major concern".
Vice-chancellor Peter Knight said the dean's interpretation was not quite correct. "No departments are likely to face closure," he said, adding the policy would not stop the university widening access. Phil Baty