Universities across England are strongly opposing government plans to impose a cap on the number of student loans granted to prospective undergraduates.
In February, government plans to limit student loans were revealed, with the Department for Education claiming they would be working to weed out ‘low-quality courses’ in a bid to reduce student numbers and see more young people take on apprenticeships.
One particularly controversial aspect of its plans include banning pupils who failed GCSE Maths and English from accessing student loans.
Three months later, universities in England are responding to the government's consultation on its proposals, and they have warned that such policies could be detrimental to some of the most disadvantaged pupils.
As reported by the Guardian, the three main university groups have joined the National Union of Students in opposing the plans to limit undergraduates taking what the government deems 'low value' courses and restricting student loan access to those with certain GCSEs.
Universities UK (UUK) also said it “strongly opposes” any introduction of number caps, explaining that it would hurt those from disadvantaged backgrounds the most.
“As well as limiting student choice, student number caps entrench disadvantage because students who are unable to move location to attend university have fewer opportunities to apply and be accepted to university, making them more likely to choose a path with poorer employment outcomes,” it said.
NUS president Larissa Kennedy added: “This government parrots the language of ‘levelling up’ but these proposals are classist, ableist and racist: they cruelly target those from marginalised communities and seek to gatekeep education.” Analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies seems to support this, finding that restricting loans to students with GCSE passes in Maths and English would have a disproportionate impact on ethnic minority students and students who had received free school meals.
The University Alliance's chief executive, Vanessa Wilson, has also voiced her concerns over the proposals, saying: “The areas of focus for the proposed higher education reforms are way off the mark and, if implemented, the casualties … will be the poorest and most disadvantaged in society.” Responding to the backlash, a spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “We have not proposed to bar anyone from going to university: rather, we are starting a conversation on minimum entry requirements and asking whether young people should be pushed straight into a full degree, without being prepared for that level of study.
“We are proposing exemptions for mature students, those with a foundation year, or appropriate certificate or diploma and are supporting these alternative routes through consulting on reducing the cost of foundation years and through our new lifelong loan entitlement, which will provide many different routes to improve a person’s career and life opportunities.
“Similarly, the government is not proposing to cap the overall number of people going to university and recognises the transformational power of higher education. We are, however, consulting on how we might prevent low quality courses with poor outcomes from growing uncontrollably.”
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