Select Committee on Education and Employment Fourth Report


1.We recommend that the Government should commission further research into differences in participation rates between areas of similar social composition in other parts of England in order to supply robust data on the basis of which effective policies may be developed. We recommend that Regional Development Authorities, Learning and Skills Councils and Regional Assemblies, where proposed, should take a lead role in partnership with higher education institutions in addressing geographic areas of under participation, so-called 'cold spots' (paragraph 20).
2.We welcome the work undertaken by HEFCE to establish a common system of measuring aspects of performance of higher education institutions. We recommend that higher education institutions should consider these performance indicators regularly, and any other indicators which become available, as a means of examining their own performance and setting new targets (paragraph 26).
3.We recommend that the UCAS application process for undergraduate courses should identify applicants with no family history of participation in higher education, so-called 'first-generation' students (paragraph 27).
4."Prospects for widened participation will be transformed when schools succeed in persuading students from poor backgrounds to stay on in school beyond the age of 16." We agree (paragraph 28).
5.We welcome the introduction of the pilot scheme for Educational Maintenance Awards. We look forward to the evaluation of this pilot scheme to determine whether this form of financial incentive has a significant effect on participation rates of young people from low-income families in further and higher education (paragraph 30).
6.This suggests that part of the answer will be continuing the drive to improve performance in the maintained sector. Regardless of the amount of university outreach work or additional targeted access funding and student financial support, it would be easier for applications (particularly to the more selective universities) to reach proportionality with the number of pupils in each sector if results in maintained schools approach those in independent schools. This would create more proportionately sized qualified cohorts of potential applicants to these universities (paragraph 32).
7.We recommend that those institutions which do not reach the benchmarks established by HEFCE should come under particular scrutiny, and should be encouraged to learn from best practice elsewhere in the higher education sector. Where an institution significantly underperforms its benchmark it should be required to publish action plans on its strategies to widen access. We further recommend that key applied subjects such as medicine, law and performing arts should be closely monitored by subject for evidence of successful promotion of entry for candidates from broad socio-economic backgrounds (paragraph 34).
8.We recommend that HEFCE should review the introduction of these new qualifications to measure the extent to which they contribute to widening access to higher education but also encourage and build on existing good practice in universities to widen access for further education students into higher education (paragraph 36).
9.We recommend that sponsors of summer schools which aim to widen access should monitor carefully whether these initiatives are reaching students who would not in other circumstances consider higher education. These activities must not act as enrichment activities for the most able, but should aim to create interest in higher education among young people whose personal and educational experience does not encourage them to progress to higher education. Initiatives should be targeted at school pupils as young as thirteen to ensure they can consider university well before GCSE options are chosen in Year 9. There is a danger that the limited number of places which are available at these summer schools could be 'captured' by students who already have a keen interest in higher education (paragraph 42).
10.We recognise a need for greater professionalism in the management of admissions to UK universities. We recommend the Government should provide where necessary additional resources to enable universities to recruit and train professional staff to manage the process of admissions (paragraph 48).
11.We recommend that examination boards should make available, with the consent of students via their schools and colleges, the names and examination results of students who have successfully completed GCSE and equivalent qualifications. This would enable universities to write to students, via the school or college where they sat their examinations, inviting appropriately qualified students to consider higher education as an option once they have completed their A levels or vocational A levels (paragraph 50).
12.We welcome developments in some universities to introduce outreach schemes to raise the aspirations of students who otherwise may not consider higher education. Such schemes are of particular importance for universities offering courses which are already over-subscribed with well-qualified applicants, who may not otherwise seek actively to recruit even more applications (paragraph 52).
13.We agree with the many witnesses who argued that quotas for admission of certain students groups would be inappropriate. We recommend that all higher education institutions should establish and make public their targets for a range of access performance indicators. The benchmarks calculated by HEFCE for each institution could provide a model for the calculation of benchmarks towards which each institution could work (paragraph 53).
14.We welcome the Government's moves to tackle under-representation in higher education from inner city areas, particularly through the Excellence in Cities programme. We recommend that the Government should consider whether the performance of individual schools and colleges in supporting wider access to higher education should be subject to a similar process of performance indicators and benchmarks as all higher education institutions (paragraph 61).
15.We recommend that focused schemes similar to the Education Action Zones recently established by Government, should be set up for higher education. These would co-ordinate activities of schools and colleges, the Learning and Skills Councils, the Connextions Service and other relevant agencies in the zone. Each zone would have partner higher education institutions, acting on behalf of the higher education sector as a whole, not just to promote access to a single institution. Funding such initiatives would provide incentives for both students and institutions to raise aspirations and widen access. Such zones would not be established on a permanent basis, but would receive funding until what can be called the 'culture of non-participation' in higher education in their areas had been eradicated or at least substantially diminished. As part of this recommendation, we also suggest that close consideration should be given to linking such zones to existing Educational Maintenance Allowance pilot schemes, which would enable outcomes to be more closely monitored (paragraph 62).
16.We believe that this new money, paid to those institutions that currently fail to recruit students from lower socio-economic groups, rewards those who fail rather than succeed. We prefer such funding to be added to the participation premium (paragraph 63).
17.We recommend that:
  • Immediate consideration should be given to raising the existing 5 per cent 'participation premium' to at least 20 per cent.

  • In reviewing the funding regime for future years serious consideration should be given to raising the per capita premium for students from low participation neighbourhoods by as much as 50 per cent.

  • Participation premiums should be continued for each year the student is registered in order to encourage retention. Part of the premium for the second and subsequent years of a course should be front-loaded and paid to institutions in the first year, in order to help resource the additional teaching and pastoral support which some students from non-traditional backgrounds are likely to need.

  • Where appropriate at least some of the money provided by Government to support programmes that will increase the proportions of students from social groups IV and V should be built into funding baselines, with institutional success in enhancing participation carefully monitored.

  • More should be done to address under-representation from areas other than inner cities, including areas of rural deprivation.

  • HEFCE should encourage research into the so-called 'hot' spots where, despite relatively severe levels of deprivation, participation rates in higher education are high, to identify factors which account for success in these areas. (Paragraph 64).

18.We agree that the new system of financial support for students attending university in England and Wales is not excessively complex. However, it is essential that information about financial support available to students is readily accessible, clear, unambiguous and presented in such a way as to encourage enquiries and applications, and attention needs to be devoted to ensuring that existing arrangements meet these criteria (paragraph 68).
19.This is a period of significant change in the arrangements for students' financial support. We recommend that the Department for Education and Employment, working with individual universities, should monitor closely and report on the operation of the new financial support arrangements (paragraph 70).
20.We are particularly interested in the possible impact of those arrangements on the number of applications from potential students with no family tradition of going to higher education (paragraph 71).
21.We believe that the income threshold for repayment of student loans in England and Wales, and also in Scotland and Northern Ireland, places too great a burden on graduates' income, and that the income threshold should be raised (paragraph 82).
22.We are concerned that not all state schools and colleges will be able to provide resources to prepare students for the new AEA awards. We recommend their introduction and use should be carefully monitored. These new awards should not reintroduce barriers to university entrance which would be difficult to overcome for students from less well resourced schools (paragraph 83).
23.We recommend that steps should be taken to assemble existing findings and to fund new research that would encourage a considered and evidence­based approach to improving admission procedures. The objective of such an evidence based approach should be widening access without threatening the merit basis of admissions and the maintenance and improvement of academic standards (paragraph 83).
24.We recommend that the DfEE should undertake a full review of modularisation and degrees taking more than three years. Such a review should take account of the resources and infra-structural support that higher education institutions require in order to offer more flexible forms of study (paragraph 84).
25.We recommend that university and college admissions offices should establish and publish criteria for taking decisions on candidates who have missed their offers which are as clear as possible (paragraph 86).
26.We welcome the proposals from the Independent Commission on the Organisation of the School Year. We strongly support moves toward an academic calendar which allows applications to higher education to be based on students' qualification results (Post Qualification Applications) rather than projections of their performance. The Independent Commission's report is an important contribution to this debate, and should be acted upon with all possible speed (paragraph 90).
27.We deeply regret that some universities do not appear prepared to use the proposed UCAS tariff where it could be relevant and could increase flexibility as part of a strategy to achieve wider participation. We welcome the initiative taken by UCAS to develop a tariff-based system to provide a means of recognising the range of qualifications which now provide students with the necessary preparation for study in higher education (paragraph 92).
28.We recommend that universities should respond fully and with sufficient urgency to the development of new AS qualifications. Any complacency or undue delay would threaten a significant and challenging development in post-16 education. We also recommend that Government should require universities in receipt of public funds to make public their policies on the use of AS examinations in their admissions criteria (paragraph 94).
29.This information should be published annually by every institution to help identify and then address any such problems (paragraph 98).
30.We recommend that HEFCE, UCAS and others should commission research into the relative performance in higher education of equally qualified students educated in both independent and state funded schools (paragraph 100).
31.Although we have some reservations about the Sutton Trust's recommendation for introduction of aptitude tests as a key element in widening access (though as part of a mix for so doing they might well have merit), we do believe the Trust makes a compelling case for a powerful and pro-active package of measures to be introduced by universities and HEFCE so as to widen access (paragraph 101).
32.We recommend that, in the interests of ensuring that the interview process is as transparent and as fair as possible, universities themselves should establish the broad principles governing the conduct of admissions interviews and these should be made known to all interested parties. We recommend that a working group should be established jointly by representatives of the school and university sector to promote more open dialogue about the applications process. We recommend that university admissions interviews should be conducted only by properly trained staff, who need not necessarily be exclusively teaching staff (paragraph 106).
33.We welcome the publication by Oxford and Cambridge of admissions data on a college-by-college basis. We recommend that such data should also be published in future years to achieve the transparency which should characterize the admissions systems of all universities. All those involved in college admissions should be properly trained to conduct interviews (paragraph 107).
34.We welcome the publication by Oxford and Cambridge of admissions data on a college-by-college basis. We recommend that UCAS should apply the same closing date to applications for all universities, including all medical and veterinary schools. This reform should be introduced at the earliest possible date (paragraph 108).
35. We believe that the present college-based admissions system might be a significant barrier to the timely response to criticisms of the low proportion of suitably qualified students from lower socio-economic backgrounds admitted to many colleges. The college-based system of admission to Oxbridge should not be used as an excuse for inaction. We recommend that for Oxford and Cambridge HEFCE's performance indicators, at least for those relating to the socio-economic backgrounds of candidates who apply and are admitted, should be dis-aggregated to college level so that the performance of each college in widening access can be assessed (paragraph 109).
36.There are currently numerous college and university based schemes taking place. This suggests that the collegiate system allows different approaches to be tried and best practice adopted more widely.
37.We have well over one hundred excellent universities and colleges of higher education, with a range of different strengths. Very often this fact is obscured by the misuse of league tables (paragraph 115).

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