News ID: 216729
Published: 0536 GMT June 16, 2018

UK universities failing to 'pull their weight' on boosting diversity

UK universities failing to 'pull their weight' on boosting diversity
telegraph.co.uk

By Camilla Turner*

UK universities are failing to ‘pull their weight’ on boosting diversity, a damning Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report has said.

The government’s spending watchdog criticized the Department for Education’s (DfE) record widening access to higher education, saying it ‘does not have enough of a grip’ on initiatives and is ‘over-reliant’ on actions taken by certain universities, telegraph.co.uk wrote.

Students from deprived backgrounds are still far less likely to enter into higher education than those from wealthier families, the report said.

MPs said they are "concerned that the incentives in the higher education market do not sufficiently support widening participation".

The report noted that "outreach activities are primarily conducted by universities and while there are areas of good practice, some universities who find it easy to recruit students are not pulling their weight".

MPs said that ministers now treat the higher education sector as a market, but noted that “it is not a market that is working in the interests of students or taxpayers”.

While there is greater competition for students between higher education providers, there no evidence that this will improve the quality of the education they provide, the report found.

The amount of funding for higher education —   primarily via tuition fees — has increased by 50 percent since ten years ago.

 “It is therefore critical that the higher education market is delivering value for money, both for individual students and the taxpayer,” MPs said.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said it is ‘deeply concerning’ that evidence indicated that the government’s approach to the higher education sector is letting students down.

“The advice available to help students, in the overwhelming majority of cases teenagers, make informed choices is inadequate,” she said.

“Should students then be unhappy with the course they choose, they are not sufficiently empowered to switch providers or get their money back.”

The amount of funding for higher education — primarily via tuition fees — has increased by 50 percent since ten years ago

The amount of funding for higher education —   primarily via tuition fees — has increased by 50 percent since ten years ago

Hillier added that the ministers are failing to show that competition between institutions will drive up the quality of education.

“These are not indicators of a market working in students’ best interests,” she said.

“Rather, they are the symptoms of failure.”

 

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said: “We agree with the Committee that further, faster progress is needed to widen participation in higher education. 

"Progress to date on access and outcomes for underrepresented groups has been incremental and that is not good enough. 

“Students deserve transformational change so we are intervening directly to drive this, particularly in the universities that need to make the most progress.”

Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, said: “There are record numbers of 18 year-olds going to university, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our reforms are continuing to open up access to higher education, and enabling students to make informed choices about what and where to study.

“Our review of post-18 education and funding is also looking at how we can drive up quality, increase choice and ensure value for money for students and taxpayers.”

 

*Camilla Turner is education editor.

   
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