Plans to make it easier for poorer students to study at university under the new tuition fees regime have been criticised by the body representing UK universities.
Universities UK Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge said the government should not “interfere in universitiy admissions procedures” but help make it easier for state school pupils to secure places.
She told BBC Radio today it was not “a sensible way forward for the Government to be dictating to universities that they limit the number of students from private schools”.
Ms Dandridge suggested that a better way to encourage admissions from less well-off students might be for universities to admit state school pupils with lower A-level results or to encourage them to do an additional foundation year to improve their A-level grades.
And she criticised the Government’s proposal to offer two years’ free university education to students in need.
“The problem with the proposal is that there is a very uneven distribution of students on free school meals in universities, with some universities having hundreds of students and some having very few,” she said.
“If there was a requirement for universities to match funds, it would be financially punitive to those universities that take higher numbers, and therefore act as a perverse disincentive.”
If there was a requirement for universities to match funds, it would be financially punitive to universities that take higher numbers. Nicola Dandridge, Universities UK
Meanwhile Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat charged with improving access to higher education for the less well-off, told The Guardian that univerisities planning to charge some of the highest fees should recruit more than 90 per cent of students from state schools.
Mr Hughes noted that 7.2 per cent of young people in England attend private schools but make up more than 25 per cent of students at the 25 most selective institutions.
“Every university should, wherever their fee level is, but specifically for a fee level above £6,000, recruit on the basis of no more people coming from the private sector than there are in the public as a whole,” he said.
He went on: “My message to the universities is: you have gained quite a lot in the settlement. Yes, you’ve lost lots of state money, but you’ve got another revenue stream that’s going to protect you.
Universities now have to deliver in turn. You cannot expect to go on as you are. It as failed miserably. Simon Hughes, Advocate for Access to Education
“You now have to deliver in turn. You cannot expect to go on as you are. It has failed miserably.”
At the end of 2010 Simon Hughes agreed to become the Advocate for Accessor to Education, in which role he will visit schools and canvas the opinions of less affluent pupils as to how they can be persuaded to consider the option of higher education.
It followed a Commons vote in mid-December to increase tuition fees for university students in England and Wales.
At the time of his appointment, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary, John Denham, said Mr Hughes “should apologise for not voting against this policy” and called the move “a terribly cynical piece of window dressing”.