Minimum entry bar would ‘undermine British values on aspiration’

Government plan would also mean alternative non-degree qualifications being downgraded in eyes of employers, MillionPlus warns

May 5, 2022

Any move by the Westminster government to cut student numbers via a cap would undermine the levelling-up agenda and be “enormously bureaucratic”, while a minimum entry requirement would undermine “British values on inclusion, aspiration and the power of education”, according to MillionPlus.

The group of modern universities makes the warning in its response to a government consultation on a “higher education reform” package, which includes a proposal to introduce minimum entry requirements to qualify for student loans in higher education – with the bar being a pass in GCSE English and mathematics in the government’s main option.

The package also includes vaguer floating of the idea of a system of student number controls (SNC). There, the options set out by the government in the consultation range from a “sector-wide cap” to “more granular” limits set by institution or subject, potentially setting them by looking at outcomes including graduate earnings.

“It is not clear from this consultation what the purpose of such a policy would be,” says MillionPlus in its response.

“If it is to save money, then in order to achieve its objective it would need to be set at a level that would have a real impact on student numbers, with a clear consequential impact on widening access, and therefore the thrust of the levelling-up agenda,” it adds.

“The imposition of an SNC would present a huge change to the architecture of the higher education sector, and therefore absolute clarity on why it is being done would need to be more clearly spelled out.”

MillionPlus also says that the models outlined by the government, “particularly basing caps at provider level on subject outcomes, are enormously bureaucratic”.

“A system of picking winners and losers, based on back-projections [of graduate outcomes] is unlikely to continue to allow universities to respond accurately to business and industry need, or indeed the needs and desires of their own current or future students,” it adds.

“This will be particularly acute for certain regions of the country where salary levels, skilled employment levels, or general economic development is traditionally lower – a foundational element of why the government seeks to address levelling up.”

On a minimum entry requirement, MillionPlus’ member institutions, which do the bulk of the sector’s recruitment of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, are the most likely to see potential students hit.

“Using a blunt tool like MER goes against the much-lauded Robbins’ principle for higher education in this country, that ‘courses of higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so’,” it says.

“Such a clear statement of purpose cuts to the very heart of what the HE system should be about, and speaks to British values on inclusion, aspiration and the power of education,” the group adds. “It would be a great shame to undermine this principle now and dilute this proud heritage of the UK system.”

Plus, channelling people into alternative educational routes via an MER “would essentially embed these routes as qualifications for those unable to succeed at degree level, and therefore of lesser quality and status”, it argues. “This would almost certainly have knock-on implications for businesses looking at who to hire, and the value of certain types of qualification.”

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Reader's comments (2)

There are dangers in imposing MERs on student undergraduate applications, particularly relating to the suggested barriers regarding attainment of GCSEs and A levels. However, I do not agree that "....., channelling people into alternative educational routes via an MER “would essentially embed these routes as qualifications for those unable to succeed at degree level, and therefore of lesser quality and status”,. At present, not everyone who applies for a University place gets one. Universities themselves already decline certain applications. It would be interesting to know on what grounds entry is refused. The Government too, has the right to limit undergraduate numbers if it can show that individuals with certain characteristics are unlikely to obtain meaningful benefit related to the cost involved to taxpayers. The development of Life Long Learning Loans will provide some of the people refused today to obtain support at a later date more appropriate HE learning at a later date. A University under graduate education is not for everyone and tax payer money may better be spent on early learning and pre 16 education.
I'm wondering if accepting students based on real grades, like at many top world ranking institutions overseas, rather than based on predicted grades would already put a sort of "cap" on student numbers.


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