Fears half of England’s poorest students will be excluded from university | Higher Education


Almost half of all disadvantaged students in England could be barred from attending university under government plans for a minimum GCSE entry level for higher education, university leaders warn .

Vice Chancellors believe government is set to introduce a new entry threshold for a place in college courses to curb rising student debt, with outstanding loans reaching £ 140bn Last year. They expect the government to announce that students will not be eligible for a student loan unless they have at least a Level 4 (the equivalent of a former C grade) in math and English at GCSE.

An analysis of the results of the Department of Education (DfE) GCSE conducted by the Million Plus group of modern universities and submitted to the Guardian shows that under the plan 48% of all disadvantaged students in England would not be eligible to a student loan to pay the Fee of £ 9,250 per year.

Professor Rama Thirunamachandran, President of Million Plus and Vice Chancellor of Christ Church University, Canterbury, said: “This policy reinforces the inequalities between rich and poor, north and south, and black and white. It introduces a type 11 and above system through the rear door.

Government figures show that 52% of disadvantaged young people achieve 4th grade in English and GCSE mathematics compared to 71% on the national average. “So you almost say to a generation of underprivileged children, ‘You can’t get a student loan,’ Thirunamachandran said. “It’s rooting inequality, not leveling up.”

Million Plus analyzed GCSE’s math and English scores by constituency and found that the policy would hit young people in poorer parts of the north of England much harder than those in wealthier parts of the south.

Below the proposed threshold, for example, 54% of pupils in Great Grimsby would not be eligible for a student loan, as would 50% in Leeds Central, 49% in Bootle, Knowsley and Nottingham North and 47% in Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough. . In contrast, in the south, only 12% of pupils are said to be excluded in Hitchin and Harpenden, 14% in St Albans and 15% in London and Westminster, Chipping Barnet and Richmond Park.

Thirunamachandran, said: “The question is, if you are a parent in one of these less privileged parts of the north, will you just accept that your child does not have the same right to go to college as someone? ‘one in a more privileged location in the South? This is the political bet taken by the government.

The government is believed to believe that many voters would consider it reasonable to expect students to have a good level of numeracy and literacy, making the idea a politically safe way to reduce the number of students. students.

Claire Callender, professor of higher education at Birkbeck University and the Institute of Education at University College London, said: by Covid. “

She argued that a minimum entry level requirement signaled “an abandonment of any government concerns about expanding participation in higher education and promoting social mobility” and said it “would cement the existing social divisions among young people at a time when they are widening rather than reducing ”.

Sir David Bell, former permanent secretary of the DfE and now vice-chancellor of the University of Sunderland, said the entry threshold would be seen as “an aspiration ceiling”.

David Bell, vice-chancellor of the University of Sunderland, said entry requirements would be seen as “an aspiration ceiling”

“Politicians and policy makers always underestimate this very deep yearning to go to college,” he said. “They often mistakenly assume that people in a city like Sunderland just don’t want to go, but they just don’t.”

In its interim response to Augar’s review of post-18 education in January, the government said: “We are currently too degree-first oriented. And last year, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan accused universities of “taking advantage” of disadvantaged students by falsely selling them moron classes that put them in debt.

Bell said the idea that universities are only interested in “cramming students” like “cash cows” was “offensive and unfair.” “We really want them to be successful,” he added. “Universities like ours do most of the heavy lifting in social mobility. ”

He said universities like his were very experienced in making nuanced decisions about the potential of applicants and whether they would accept a degree course. Sunderland hosts a high proportion of mature students, many of whom do not have traditional qualifications and would be excluded from the proposed new system.

Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, who is leading a research project on how to help those leaving school without basic literacy and numeracy, said: children. Our research shows the surprisingly strong link between poor test scores at young age and failure in English and math on the GCSE at age 16.

Children in the lowest fifth in family income are five times more likely to leave school without earning GCSE degrees in English and math than those in the highest fifth in income, according to his research.

“This move exposes the fundamental flaw at the heart of our education system: We are already labeling one-third of students in English and Mathematics GCSEs as failures – this will only further condemn them,” said Elliot Major.

Academic staff at modern universities also claim that courses such as paramedical, nursing and social care would all lose students under the proposed model, just as England has a shortage of staff in these professions.

Dr Signy Henderson, dean of student success at the University of Cumbria, said his paramedical science degree would suffer. “We all know how desperately the country needs more skilled paramedics,” she said. “We often have learners who have real potential, but went to schools where they say no one pushed them, or who grew up in homes where no one understood the value of GCSE vouchers. “

The DfE said it would not comment on speculation about discussions over minimum grade requirements and possible exemptions, which it said were ongoing.

However, a spokesperson said: “It is a government that has boosted aspirations and increased opportunities for disadvantaged people across the country, and this year a record proportion of disadvantaged students started university in result. We are committed to continuing to expand opportunities.

He added: “But we also want to make access as important as entering, which is why last month we asked universities to restart their access widening plans with ambitious targets to support students. both before and during their stay at university, reducing dropout, and improving progression to well-paying and highly skilled jobs for disadvantaged students.


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