The government’s draft of policy announcements made yesterday may well have profound implications for widening access to higher education (HE). A minimum entry requirement (MER) for students entering HE has the potential to dissuade students from considering HE as an option as well as constraining the flexibility of HE providers to recognize potential amongst those from widening access backgrounds. Combined with the extension of the payment period for student loans to 40 years the MER risks giving the message to potential students and their families from lower socio-economic groups, particularly living in areas with the greatest economic and social challenges, that HE is not for them. In doing so it also threatens progress on the levelling up agenda.
The potential new national scholarship scheme and the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) both provide in principle welcome new funding opportunities for students who wish to progress into and through HE. However, they will need to be developed with input from those working with learners who are under-represented in HE to ensure that they maximise their impact as the LLE does not provide a funded, entitlement to learn is likely to have a limited impact.
It was disappointing that the consultation summary and government response on post-qualifications admissions was also published yesterday and not on a separate date. While the government’s position on PQA now is clear the consultation exercise and the other work done by sector bodies looking at the admissions system did identify some crucial areas where the admission system could be improved for students from widening access backgrounds and we hope that some of these ideas in the context of the current system can be taken forward.
We will be working with our members now to respond to the relevant consultations announced yesterday and also will look to support the government and the Office for Students in implementing reforms so that they deliver opportunities for those from under represented backgrounds to progress and succeed in HE.
- The National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) is the professional organisation supporting those involved in widening access to higher education. NEON enables those working in widening access, at all levels and in all sectors, to affect change in their own organisations and communities, and is a membership-based organisation. For more information on NEON please go to www.educationopportunities.co.uk
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