Lib Dems plan target practice

October 13, 2000

Universities could be given the names of top-performing 16-year-olds under policies being developed by the Liberal Democrats, writes Phil Baty.

The Lib Dems want to give admissions tutors the means to target the cream of school pupils in the most deprived areas.

Other plans in the forthcoming policy paper include a hike in the funding premiums paid to universities that recruit from deprived areas and a reform of the funding system to pay universities when their students graduate, instead of on admission.

The initiatives, drafted by higher education spokesman Evan Harris, could influence the committee's forthcoming report on widening access.

The paper, Higher Education Funding, Student Support and Access, is to be put to party members. It will recommend that an "option for further research" would be a plan to give universities the names and details of the best GCSE students in every school. "This would enable universities to write to students from the traditionally under-represented schools that they are trying to target," Dr Harris said. The party is expected to look into legal issues, such as data protection rules.

The Lib Dems were interested in an American access model in which the top 10 per cent of students at all schools would be given an automatic right to a university place, but this has not made the policy paper.

The paper will make firmer proposals on funding for access. "The unit of funding premium currently allocated to universities for admitting students from under-represented groups should be increased," Dr Harris said. "This will ensure that the universities receive the cost of educating these students and the additional income, which they can invest elsewhere."

The paper will call for a shift in the weighting of student funding to the time of graduation. "This gives the university an additional incentive to ensure that the student does not drop out," he said.

The Lib Dems also said their proposed changes to student funding arrangements, reported in The THES last week, will improve access because "policies implemented by the government have made poor students poorer" and made access harder for the under-represented groups.

The party would abolish tuition fees in favour of a post-graduation endowment payment when salaries reach £13,000.

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy has set off on a tour of universities to boost the party's profile among students.

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