Students from disadvantaged backgrounds in England could be barred from going to university unless they achieve strong GCSE or A-level grades, under proposals to be announced by the government this week.
The government is due to publish its long-awaited response to the Augar review of higher education funding on Thursday, and the Guardian has learned that a key part of the response will be the launch of a consultation on minimum entry requirements for students to be eligible for government guaranteed loans for tuition and maintenance.
University leaders warn that setting minimum entry requirements too high, such as requiring a Year 5 maths and English GCSE, would effectively end the hopes of many school leavers from disadvantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds. others who could not afford the annual undergraduate tuition fee of £9,250 fees or living expenses without a student loan.
A determining factor will be whether a GCSE grade 4 or 5 is considered the minimum entry standard. Around 71% of pupils in England get a Year 4 in English and GCSE maths, falling to 52% among disadvantaged households.
Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: ‘After nearly three years of inaction, this meager response shows that the government does not share the ambitions of young people and their families for their future and the future of our country.
“Instead of seeking to expand access to university education or support the success of our universities, the government is slamming the door on opportunity.
A DfE spokesperson said: ‘Higher education is an investment and we need to ensure that graduates are rewarded for the money, time and effort they put into their studies with educational experience and jobs that match their skills and contribute to the economy. ”
The announcement comes as a record number of school leavers apply for undergraduate places. The Department for Education has been battling with the Treasury over the cost of funding for nearly three years since the publication of the Augar review under then Prime Minister Theresa May.
A new consultation will be announced on the future of preparatory year courses taught in universities. These are offered to students who do not meet an institution’s academic requirements and remain a key entry point for many students, especially mature students. However, Augar’s review recommended that foundation years be limited to graduate colleges.
Other headline measures to be announced include freezing tuition fees at £9,250 for another two years, until the end of the current legislature. This will result in an effective reduction in university income from teaching undergraduates, as the value of tuition fees has already been significantly eroded by inflation. In real terms, its value by 2024 is expected to be well below £7,000, depending on the rate of inflation.
The government will also announce a similar earnings threshold freeze for student loan repayments, hitting recent graduates who will have to make higher repayments as their earnings rise faster above the threshold.
Earlier this year, the DfE announced that the repayment threshold – the amount at which graduates in England repay their student loans – would be frozen at £27,295, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies said would cost graduates earning £30,000 and an additional £113 a year. each. The IFS also calculated that the move would save the Treasury around £600m a year in higher refunds than it would have received if the threshold had been indexed to inflation as originally planned. .
However, the proposals to be unveiled on Thursday are expected to include some good news on capping interest charged on student loans, although this will not have an immediate effect on the level of repayments.
The consultation is the government’s long-delayed response to the Augar review of post-18 education and funding in England, which was announced by former Prime Minister Teresa May in February 2018 after Labor’s dynamic performance in the 2017 general election, in part thanks to his promise. abolish student tuition fees.
The review was launched at a time of growing concern over the cost – and value – of higher education, after annual tuition fees hit £9,250 and maintenance grants were scrapped, making soaring individual student debt to nearly £50,000.
When it finally delivered its report on May 30, 2019, it included 53 recommendations on the future of the sector, including a reduction in tuition fees to £7,500, an extension of student loan repayments from 30 to 40 years and the reintroduction of maintenance grants for the most disadvantaged students.
However, as time passed and the political climate changed, many of Augar’s recommendations seemed increasingly unlikely. With outstanding student loans reaching £140billion last year, the Treasury’s priority has been to reduce the cost of student loans rather than ease the burden on students.
Higher education staff and management are currently locked in a bitter social dispute over pensions, wages and working conditions.
On Tuesday evening, a key negotiating committee of the University Superannuation Scheme, which manages the pension funds of many university staff, rejected funding proposals from the University and College Union in favor of those put forward by employers.
UCU president Jo Grady warned the decision would lead to further industrial action. “University vice-chancellors today chose to steal tens of thousands of dollars from staff retirement incomes. This is a deplorable attack that our members will not support,” Grady said.