From education to employment

Capping student numbers a flawed and backward move, university leaders warn


University leaders are warning that proposed reforms to post 18 education and funding in England would turn back the clock on social mobility while limiting the government’s own levelling up agenda.

Representing 140 institutions, Universities UK [UUK] recently submitted its full response to the government’s consultation on higher education reform.

UUK strongly opposes the introduction of student number caps, which 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

Limiting educational opportunities is also counterproductive as the UK looks to upskill and meet the growing need for graduate skills. There were one million more graduate vacancies than graduates in 2022.

As part of its response to the consultation, UUK has also raised issues with using minimum entry requirements.

The universities most likely to be most affected by minimum entry requirements recruit high proportions of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Some of these universities are also located in government priority levelling up areas and reduced recruitment numbers would have significant financial implications for them, limiting their ability to provide support for their disadvantaged students and invest locally.

Universities have made significant progress in improving access to university and according to OfS widening participation data, those who go to university with the lowest A level results have higher continuation rates than average, demonstrating that previous results do not determine a student’s success at university.

Professor Steve West CBE, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of UWE Bristol, said:

“Universities oppose student number caps in the strongest possible terms because they will hurt disadvantaged students the most.

“We agree with government that geography should not limit opportunity and avoiding student number caps is essential if we are to succeed in creating more opportunities to upskill for everyone, regardless of their background. 

“All reforms to higher education need to be in the best interests of students as well as universities, business and society. We remain committed to working together with government to ensure future policy decisions reduce inequalities and wholeheartedly support the levelling up agenda.”

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