From education to employment

Crackdown on rip-off university degrees to protect students and help grow the economy 

teacher high fiving student

Students and taxpayers will be better protected against rip-off degree courses that have high drop-out rates, don’t lead to good jobs and leave young people with poor pay and high debts, the Prime Minister and Education Secretary have announced.

Under the plans, the Office for Students (OfS) will be asked to limit the number of students universities can recruit onto courses that are failing to deliver good outcomes for students. 

The UK has some of the world’s leading universities, but a minority of the courses on offer leave students saddled with debt, low earnings and faced with poor job prospects. The government wants to make the system fairer for them, but also for taxpayers – who make a huge investment in higher education and are liable for billions of pounds in unrecovered tuition fees if graduate earnings are low.

Figures from the Office for Students show that nearly three in ten graduates do not progress into highly skilled jobs or further study 15 months after graduating. The Institute for Fiscal Studies also estimates that one in five graduates would be better off financially if they hadn’t gone to university. 

The government wants to make sure that universities and colleges are offering the same standard of high-quality provision expected in our schools, and that young people are encouraged to choose the path that is right for them – whether it’s a university degree, a higher technical qualification, or an apprenticeship. 

As part of today’s announcements, the government will also reduce the maximum fee that universities can charge for classroom-based foundation year courses to £5,760 – down from £9,250 currently. 

These are an additional year of study designed to help prepare students for degrees with specific entry requirements or knowledge, such as in medicine and veterinary sciences. However, research shows that too many people are encouraged to take a foundation year in some subjects like business where it is not necessary.  

The Office for Students will also continue work to make it easier for students to assess the quality of each university course, including its earnings potential, so that they can make the most informed decision about where and what to study. We are asking the Office for Students to ensure that courses which fail to deliver good earnings are subject to stricter controls.

Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said:

“The UK is home to some of the best universities in the world and studying for a degree can be immensely rewarding. 

“But too many young people are being sold a false dream and end up doing a poor-quality course at the taxpayers’ expense that doesn’t offer the prospect of a decent job at the end of it. 

“That is why we are taking action to crack down on rip-off university courses, while boosting skills training and apprenticeships provision. 

“This will help more young people to choose the path that is right to help them reach their potential and grow our economy”. 

 Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said:

“Students and taxpayers rightly expect value for money and a good return on the significant financial investment they make in higher education.  

“These new measures will crack down on higher education providers that continue to offer poor quality courses and send a clear signal that we will not allow students to be sold a false promise. Wherever they choose to study, it is vital students can gain the skills needed to get great jobs and succeed – supporting the Prime Minister’s priority to grow our economy.”

Philip Augar, chair of the independent Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, said:

“This is another strong signal for universities to control such recruitment as is not in students’ best interests and I hope the sector responds constructively.”

Edward Peck, Vice-Chancellor and President Nottingham Trent University and panel member of the independent Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, said:

“Following careful consideration and extensive consultation, the reform agenda for higher education being pursued by Government is consistent with the approach articulated in the Augar Review. 

“The alignment of the fee for Foundation Years with that of Access to HE for lower cost subjects is in the interests of students as is the proposition that the future refinement of the quality framework deployed by the Office for Students, including potential selective student number controls, should make subject appropriate use of graduate salaries.”  

Baroness Alison Wolf, panel member of the independent Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, said:

“I am delighted that the government has introduced reforms for foundation year courses, whose current meteoric growth is hard to justify educationally or in cost terms. Aligning their fees explicitly with college-based access courses should also promote the greater alignment of further and higher education to which the government is, rightly, committed.”

The government has already taken decisive steps to make sure young people and adults can access more high-quality training opportunities. This includes rolling out new T Levels, Higher Technical Qualifications, establishing a network of 21 Institutes of Technology and working with employers of all sizes to create more apprenticeships in a wider range of exciting roles. Plans to expand UCAS to allow students to apply for apprenticeships alongside traditional degree have also been announced so thousands more young people can benefit from a wider choice of high-quality options.  

Alongside the measures announced today to boost the quality of higher education, the government is going further still to support people and employers to take advantage of the wide range of free training options available to them, helping to fill skills gaps, get people into work and support the Prime Minister’s priority of growing the economy. 

This includes launching a new digital platform from the autumn where people and employers can search for everything from apprenticeships and T Levels to Skills Bootcamps and essential skills courses – all in one place. The government is also making it easier for employers to take on apprentices. This includes by cutting the steps needed to register to take on an apprentice by a third and updating 100 apprenticeships in sectors such as construction and healthcare so they reflect the latest technological advancements and so they work better for employers and apprentices. 

Anthony Impey, Chief Executive of Be The Business, said:

“Small businesses are run by some of the country’s most impressive and resilient people, but they are time poor and lack the resources of their peers in much larger companies. So these changes will make a real difference in opening up apprenticeships at a time when small businesses are looking for all the help they can get to boost their productivity.” 

FD Works, Top 50 SME apprentice employer and accountancy firm based in Bristol said:

“At FD Works, we believe that the power of apprentices is unmatched. The passion and perspective they bring have been a huge part of our ongoing success, but as a small business, our time is incredibly valuable. The investment far outweighs the cost already, but the Department for Education is continuously improving the system with us in mind, which is clear in this latest update. As an innovative company, we’re really excited to see changes happening that will help us move quicker, share more opportunities, and empower even more apprentices to find a career they love.”  

Jane Gratton, Head of People Policy, British Chambers of Commerce said:

“Apprenticeships are key to boosting technical skills in the workforce and helping firms tackle skills shortages.  However, many firms with great apprenticeship opportunities have found the process difficult.  So it’s good to see Government taking steps in the right direction to reduce the complexity and excess bureaucracy in the apprenticeship system. We also need more candidates to choose the apprenticeship route to employment and so we welcome initiatives that raise awareness and help match people to the great jobs and training available in local business communities throughout the country.”  

Sector Response

Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s shadow Education Secretary, said:

“This is simply an attack on the aspirations of young people and their families by a government that wants to reinforce the class ceiling, not smash it.

“The Conservatives’ appalling record on apprenticeships means it can’t be trusted to deliver the overhaul that our young people need, and new role for the Office for Students will be to put up fresh barriers to opportunity in areas with fewer graduate jobs. 

“Labour will enable our young people to seize the opportunities of the future through our reforms of the skills system and higher education funding – your background will be no barrier to getting on under a Labour Government.

OfS chief executive Susan Lapworth:

“Students from all backgrounds are entitled to expect high quality teaching on courses that lead to successful outcomes after graduation.  We know that many universities and colleges consistently deliver that for their students.  But where that’s not the case it’s important that the OfS, as the independent regulator of higher education in England, can intervene to protect the interests of students and taxpayers.  We look forward to continuing our work on these important issues.”

Rae Tooth, Co-Chair of the Fair Access Coalition said:

“The government has been unable to provide any examples of ‘rip off courses’, while there is much evidence that graduate outcomes are impacted on significantly by a student’s socioeconomic background. This policy of limiting places at university, which is being announced along with cuts in funding for foundation years is an attack on access for poor students and must be challenged.”

The Government has today published its response to the Higher Education reform consultation which was launched in February 2022 and closed on 6 May 2022. As well as the new measures outlined today the consultation response also confirms that:

  • The government will continue to rollout high-quality alternative training options to traditional three-year degrees including Higher Technical Qualifications, establishing a network of 21 Institutes of Technology, and introducing the Lifelong Learning Entitlement which will transform student finance so that people of all backgrounds can access education and training at any point in their lives.   
  • Work with the OfS to set clearer expectations to the sector regarding the quality, governance, transparency, and value for money of higher education franchising arrangements. Franchising allows more students to access higher education via new and small providers, but it is important that this is subject to rigorous and effective regulation to protect students’ and taxpayers’ investment.  
  • The government consulted on the principle of a minimum eligibility requirement for access to student finance for degree-level study. Responses to the consultation suggested a minimum eligibility requirement would likely have disproportionate impact on some groups. This proposal will not be taken forward at this time, however all levers will be considered if the sector fails to deliver the improvements needed to help achieve high-quality education for all. 
  • The government also consulted on the eligibility for a proposed national state scholarship. It is vitally important to support talented disadvantaged students to succeed in higher education.  We will give further consideration to whether a scholarship scheme or other form of support will add significant value.

To support training providers and employers to take on more apprentices, the government has announced it will:   

  • Cut the steps currently required to register to take on apprentice by a third  
  • Reduce the evidence employers and providers must collect to claim funding for an apprentice  
  • Bring 100 apprenticeships in key sectors such as construction, engineering and healthcare up to date so they reflect the latest workplace developments
  • Provide job centres with refreshed tools and materials to support jobseekers to find training opportunities.  
  • Allow employers to delegate more administrative processes to ‘expert’ providers  
  • Small employers will be able to backdate their apprentice’s start by one month so paperwork does not prevent their apprentices from starting.

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