Withdrawing access to student loans for pupils who fail to achieve three Ds at A level would stifle opportunity for the disadvantaged, Ucas has warned.
Clare Marchant, chief executive of the universities admissions service told Tes that the idea – which is reportedly being considered by a government-commissioned review of higher education (HE) – would be a “real shame” and “cut off” opportunity”.
Ms Marchant also questioned another reported finding of the forthcoming Augar HE review - that tuition fees should be cut from £9250 a year to between £6,500 and £7,500. She argues that tackling the cost of living would more effectively widen access to university than cutting tuition fees – a recommendation which the review is also expected to make.
It was reported at the end of last year that the review could recommend that students who fail to achieve three Ds at A-level should not qualify for a student loan to go to university, and that tuition fees should be cut
The idea of curbing access to loans for those with less than three Ds – which it is estimated could impact 20,000 pupils – has been criticised by universities, as has a cut to tuition fees if this is not replaced by like for like Treasury funding.
Asked about the proposal to limit access to loans, Ms Marchant said: “I think that would be a real shame.”
She said “a lot of people” in the cohort of DDD and below who go to university come from “quite deprived backgrounds, disadvantaged backgrounds”, and that removing eligibility for these students would “cut off that opportunity in quite a crude way”.
Ms Marchant also suggested that reducing tuition fees would not be the best way of encouraging more young people from poorer backgrounds to go to university.
“Does this really, really worry students, this tuition fee? Actually of all the survey work we do… it’s the cost of living that really worries them,” she said. “The tuition fee is sort of a long time in the future.”
She said Ucas had fed its survey data into the Augar review “about the cost of living deterring students potentially who come from disadvantaged backgrounds”.
“We’ve seen accommodation and the cost of accommodation being a really key driver in terms of where they make their choices, just simply because that is the biggest cost they will have when they’re at university," she said.
“I think people are pinning a lot on tuition fees as the key driver for students but actually if you look at the data… very often it’s the cost of living.”
The Department for Education said it would not comment on "speculation" about the review or pre-empt its findings.