Introducing a minimum A-level grade threshold to qualify for a student loan would be a “cap on aspiration” that would hit pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, a group of universities has warned.
MillionPlus, which represents almost half of the UK university sector, also said that cutting tuition fees could have “highly damaging consequences”.
In February 2018, the prime minister launched a review of higher education chaired by former investment banker Philip Augar.
It was reported at the end of last year that the review could recommend that students who fail to achieve three Ds at A-level should not qualify for a student loan to go to university, and that tuition fees should be cut.
'Threat' to social mobility
MillionPlus has today spoken out against both ideas. Greg Walker, the chief executive of the organisation, said: “The speculation of possible fee reductions and access restrictions has caused concern throughout the sector. Implementing a minimum grade tariff would be nothing less than a cap on aspiration and a clear sign that we were giving up as a society on the aim of promoting social mobility.”
He said the policy had been “soundly rejected” by the review of higher education funding carried out by Lord Browne in 2010, and that, if implemented, it would “have a disproportionate impact on black and minority ethnic students, people in regions with lower average educational attainment and older learners”.
“Coming at a time when it’s never been more vital to allow people to unlock their potential by up- or re-skilling, a minimum tariff would have a detrimental effect on Britain’s economy and productivity," Dr Walker said.
“Making university a ‘closed shop’ only for the best qualified students would be absolutely the wrong thing to do.”
On the proposal to cut tuition fees down from £9,250 a year to between £6,500 and £7,500, Dr Walker said that reducing investment would “have highly damaging consequences” for higher education.
“Cuts in fees to the levels suggested would deny universities the funding required to ensure students are successful. It would place at risk programmes to increase access and to provide vital services to support the student experience and their wellbeing.”
“It's essential that government mitigates the impact of any fee changes through the return of direct grant to fund teaching, as well as improved maintenance support for students and allocations reflecting the higher cost of educating a more socially inclusive intake.”
Last month Clare Marchant, the chief executive of Ucas, said that introducing a minimum tariff would be a “great shame”, and suggested that tackling the cost of living would more effectively widen access to university than cutting tuition fees.