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29 Mar

Cuts to student places will limit choice for the most vulnerable says university head

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of East London (UEL) today (Thursday, 29 March 2012) rejected the government’s claims that their higher education reforms would increase choice for students, warning that many students faced only the choice between a ‘no-frills’ degree or none at all.

Professor Patrick McGhee said “Many students will face the stark choice between accepting a cut-price degree done on the cheap or not entering higher education at all. While many further education colleges offer excellent teaching, even the best FE college is no substitute for a student who wants to study a research-led degree on a university campus, with all the opportunities that provides. The new scheme will reduce the number of students going to higher education, create an unsustainable burden for the taxpayer, increase uncertainty and bureaucracy for universities, and undermine the reputation of British higher education internationally.”

The government scheme takes 20,000 existing places from universities across the country and reallocates them to universities and further education colleges charging fees of less than £7,500 a year. Most of these places went to FE colleges – an increase of 25% over their current numbers. Meanwhile, many universities will have to reject qualified students to meet lower government allocations. Despite enjoying record-breaking applications over the last few years, UEL will have to turn away over 1,000 students this summer who would otherwise have places.

Professor McGhee continued “Unless you are amongst that small group with very high traditional A-levels with well-off parents who can fund living costs in any part of the country, the new scheme actually reduces choice due to the drastic cuts in total number of places. If you are on good to average A-level grades, want to study near where you live, or have care responsibilities you have many fewer choices. If you are deterred from higher education or the place you want has been cut by the government, the consequences of these new policies are utterly, utterly disastrous.”

“This ill-considered experiment with one of the best higher education systems in the world is untested, unsupported, underdefined, unsustainable and unnecessary. It would be bad enough if we were talking about tin can production, but we’re talking here about young people’s lives.”

Many students are expected to never fully repay their loans – the government says it is writing off 34p in the pound - which suggests the purpose of allocating extra places to cheaper degrees is to save money for the Treasury, not increase student choice. UEL is one of a few universities that are offering students substantial bursary packages rather than fee waivers - a move that has found favour with the National Union of Students, but not the government. The UEL bursary scheme is worth £8m to students in 2012-13.

Notes to Editors

The University of East London (UEL) is a global learning community with over 28,000 students from over 120 countries world-wide. Our vision is to achieve recognition, both nationally and internationally, as a successful and inclusive regional university proud of its diversity, committed to new modes of learning which focus on students and enhance their employability, and renowned for our contribution to social, cultural and economic development, especially through our research and scholarship. We have a strong track-record in widening participation and working with industry.

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