Augar review: What schools need to know about university shake-up

Ministers have set out their plans for higher education reform

Ministers have set out their plans for higher education reform

Ministers have proposed a shake-up of university admissions and funding, including a move that could see pupils barred from student finance for failing their GCSEs.

However, plans to move to a system which would see pupils offered their places after receiving their results have been ditched.

The shake-up was confirmed in the government’s response to the Augar review of post-18 education.

Here’s what schools need to know…

1. Barring students from loans may leave them ‘better off’, DfE claims

Ministers are consulting on plans to bring in minimum entry requirements, which could see students barred from getting loans if they don’t achieve either a grade 4 in English and maths GCSE or two Es at A-level.

The Department for Education (DfE) estimates that around 4,800 pupils would be affected by the GCSE thresholds, while 6,200 would be affected by the A-level requirement. Students over 25 or with level 4 or 5 qualifications would be exempt.

But an education lawyer warned the proposals were “potentially discriminatory” towards pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. Leaders fear poorer pupils will be disproportionately affected because they are less likely to do well in exams.

The DfE’s own equality analysis concluded students with certain protected characteristics, such as those from black and ethnic minority groups and those with SEND, were “likely to be disproportionately impacted” by the proposed changes.

However, the DfE pointed out “not all students” benefited from having a degree, and pupils who fail their exams already tended to perform poorly at university.

“It is expected that on average these students may be subsequently better off as a result,” they claimed.

2. ‘Not right time for major upheaval’ of admissions

Plans to overhaul university admissions to offer students places based on their actual – rather than predicted – exam results will not form part of the government’s reforms.

The government had consulted on a move to post-qualification admissions to “remove the unfairness” from the current system.

Although two thirds of consultation respondents were in favour, 60 per cent felt the models proposed “would be either worse than, or no better than, current arrangements”.

Two types of PQA were proposed, which could have resulted in results day moved to July and the higher education term moving to October.

DfE said this was not enough to “indicate that this is the right time for such a major upheaval”, with respondents pointing out a need for focus on recovery from Covid learning losses.

DfE pledged to continue its crackdown on the use of unconditional offers, and make the personal statement system fairer.

3. Starting uni this year would save students thousands

The government said it would reduce the repayment earnings threshold for student loans to £25,000 for those starting from 2023. The repayment term would also be extended from 30 to 40 years.

This is because of a need to “ensure the long-term sustainability” of the system, with the student loan book to balloon to half a trillion pounds by 2043.

The announcement has prompted advice from financial commentator Martin Lewis to current year 13 pupils considering a gap year to instead start university in 2022 to save money.

“For most, starting this year will save you thousands of pounds over your working life compared to delaying,” he said.

Ministers will also freeze maximum tuition fees at £9,250 until 2025 and abolish interest rates above inflation from 2023. The government claimed this would “reduce debt levels”.

Ministers have said they will invest £75 million in scholarship to support “talented, disadvantaged” students, and is “considering the case” for reducing fees charged for foundation years.

4. Recruitment cap proposed to ‘tilt growth’ to best unis

Ministers want to “incentivise high-quality provision” by “considering the case” for student number controls.

They will explore whether such controls could be a “lever to tilt growth towards provision with the best outcomes for students, society, and the economy”.

The DfE policy paper states that controls would “potentially be a significant method for prioritising provision with the best outcomes”. It could also prevent a “race to the bottom”, whereby “some providers are incentivised to compete by offering low cost, low value provision”.

The document also pointed out that student number controls had been a feature of the higher education in England “for much of the last 25 years”.

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