Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, comments on the Department for Education’s announcement of changes to the higher education system.
“We welcome steps to reduce student loan interest rates and we understand the need to address the scale of the student loan book. However, this comes with a sting in the tail as students will now face 40 years rather than 30 years of repayments. We also note that these reforms stop some way short of the recommendations in the Augar Review to reduce tuition fees to £7,500 per year and reintroduce maintenance grants for disadvantaged students. This latter omission is particularly disappointing in terms of improving social mobility and access to university.
“We are concerned about the introduction of minimum eligibility requirements and student number controls. The proposal that students should have at least a Grade 4 pass in GCSE English and maths effectively excludes around one third of pupils from progressing to higher education. This is the proportion of pupils who do not achieve these grades in a normal year.
“We should be doing more rather than less to support the progress of this ‘forgotten third’, and a move to restrict their choices sounds like removing a ladder up rather than levelling up.
“It is important to understand that higher education is not the preserve of an academic elite. Many colleges and universities work hard to improve access to under-represented groups of students and improve their life chances. Our understanding is that relatively few young people currently studying in higher education have not attained at least a Grade 4 in GCSE English and maths . Nevertheless, removing this route closes down another option, and smacks of a lack of ambition on the part of the government for the young people who most need our help and support.
“Taken together we cannot escape the conclusion that these reforms represent an attempt to save money by reducing the number of students who access higher education and extending the loan period to make sure that they pay back more. The appeal to the Treasury is obvious but the hardest hit will once again be our most disadvantaged young people.”