Having increased university fees, the coalition government is now trying to even the 'playing field' for students. Universities will be penalised if they fail to attract a wider mix of students from all backgrounds, under new measures.
The Government is set to demand that universities improve their performance in attracting a wider mix of students, including ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and teenagers from areas with no tradition of going on to higher education.
Universities will be free to choose how best to increase their diversity, such as making lower offers to students from state schools. But they face being stripped of their right to charge higher fees if they fail to hit targets.
Thirteen of the 16 English Russell Group universities are below existing benchmarks for state school access. The sharpest disparity is at Oxford, where nearly 47% of its students come from private schools.
Universities charging over £6,000 will be required to take part in the national scholarship programme. The government will lay out a menu of options universities could offer poorer students. These are:
• A free foundation year, which helps develop academic knowledge and skills and leads on to a competitive university degree course in one of the professions
• Discounted accommodation.
• Scholarship/bursary capped at £1,000.
• A fee waiver or discount.
Nick Clegg, who met students on Wednesday to discuss the government's proposals, said: "This is not about social engineering. It is about creating a genuinely fair playing field for all our young people."
He was given a rough ride over the coalition's decision to treble the maximum fee, which the Lib Dems had pledged to oppose any rise in during the general election campaign.
Joanne Casserly, 22, who is studying French and Politics at University College London (UCL), said she was facing £35,000 of debt due to the policy.
Pointing out that Clegg was from a wealthy family and had attended exclusive Westminster School, she accused him of "punishing people for getting an education ... You have never been in the kind of debt that you are condemning a whole generation of people to."
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