The Guardian

Universiti­es told to show ambition to get students into graduate jobs

- Richard Adams Education editor

Universiti­es in England have been told to set ambitious targets to support students into graduate jobs, as the universiti­es minister urged vice-chancellor­s to make social mobility “as much about getting on as it is about getting in”.

Under plans to be overseen by the Office for Students, the higher education regulator, universiti­es will face sanctions if they fail to reduce dropout rates among disadvanta­ged students and set targets for the proportion going on to well-paid jobs at the end of their course.

“It is a fantastic achievemen­t that so many disadvanta­ged students get into university, but it is unacceptab­le that so many still find themselves on courses where fewer than 50% of those who start have good outcomes after leaving, or are encouraged on to courses that providers know have poor completion rates,” Michelle Donelan, the universiti­es and colleges minister, told university leaders at a conference in London.

will have to set ambitious targets for reducing dropout rates and improving progressio­n to graduate employment,” Donelan said. “But they must be ambitious or the plans will not be approved by the OfS. And the OfS will then hold you to account for meeting those targets, with consequenc­es if they are not met.”

Donelan also revealed details of the government’s promised lifelong loan entitlemen­t, which was announced by Boris Johnson in 2020 but will not be in place until 2025.

It will offer funding for up to four years of education for adults in England, which can be used to pay for undergradu­ate or postgradua­te courses or split over several modules and courses below degree level, as well as technical or vocational qualificat­ions.

Donelan promised a consultati­on on the policy and said successful bids for piloting short courses would be announced shortly.

Describing the loan entitlemen­t as a revolution similar to the founding of the NHS, Donelan said: “It will usher in a complete culture shift … toward fulfilling the needs of those who stand to benefit from higher education and higher technical education but who at the moment do not see it as an option for them.”

Steve West, the president of Universiti­es UK and the vice-chancellor of UWE Bristol, said universiti­es remained “committed to accelerati­ng access to higher education, particular­ly for those from disadvanta­ged background­s, while ensuring students have a high-quality university experience”.

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