NUS fears over access watchdog

December 5, 2003

The Office for Fair Access will fail to ensure justice for students from less well-off backgrounds, the National Union of Students said this week.

Responding to the consultation by the Admissions to Higher Education steering group, chaired by Steven Schwartz, vice-chancellor of Brunel University, the NUS said it was worried that the access regulator, which forms part of the delayed higher education bill, would fail to provide a nationwide framework on fair access.

Chris Weavers, NUS vice-president for education, said: "The NUS has to voice its deep concern that admissions good practice principles - their dissemination, monitoring and evaluation at the institutional level - will be left hanging in the air.

"Or, putting it more precisely, left to individual higher education institutions to develop, monitor and evaluate their admissions processes and practices as they think fit.

"Offa will not have this responsibility. The NUS therefore seeks clarification from the government of who or what organisation at the national level will be taking the lead and responsibility to ensure that good practice principles are actually being practiced by individual institutions and are enshrined in individual institutional processes, policies and practices."

Fair access for students from less well-off backgrounds requires a comprehensive student -support package, the NUS said. It is demanding that Offa - which will oversee access agreements with universities that are planning to charge variable fees - monitors institutional charges to students and the supply of cheap student accommodation as part of these access agreements.

The NUS also called for admissions staff to be trained to ensure that admissions were fair and consistent.

Mr Weavers said: "We believe that all staff who deal with admissions should be formally trained and that this should include an element that details various qualifications - both academic and vocational - as the NUS is aware that there is some confusion within the sector in terms of parity or currency of qualifications."


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