UNIVERSITIES should be set recruitment targets for students from under-privileged backgrounds and face penalties if they fail to meet them, say the Liberal Democrats.
The proposal comes in a policy review paper, drawn up for the Liberal Democrat "mid-term manifesto" for European and other elections next year.
Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat further and higher education spokesman, said students from postcode-defined under-privilged districts will be eligible for additional "access unit" funding.
Mr Willis rejected the suggestion that this would lead to a lowering of entry standards.
The Liberal Democrats also propose the abolition of the four-year BEd degree, pointing to its declining popularity and arguing for a first degree followed by the one-year certificate - during which students would receive an income equal to 50 per cent of starting salary - as the standard entry into teaching. Opposition to tuition fees and the extra penny in the pound on income tax stay as party policy.
A radical reform of further education would see different funding sources brought together in a single strategic funding body, subsuming the Further Education Funding Council.
This would work through a regional framework organised by regional development agencies in England, and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies. Mr Willis said funding arrangements were too complex and confused. Training and enterprise councils would be abolished.
Colleges of further education would be required to employ the bulk of their staff directly, rather than via agencies, a measure aimed at cutting casualisation.