According to new government plans, universities may be restricted in their ability to recruit students for low-quality courses.
Ministers will request that the independent regulator, the Office for Students (OfS), limit the number of students enrolled in courses with subpar outcomes. Robert Halfon, minister of education, stated that imposing restrictions would encourage universities to enhance the quality of their courses. Labour stated that the measure would "erect new barriers to opportunity in regions with fewer graduate job opportunities."
According to the government, courses that do not produce "good outcomes" for students include those with high dropout rates or a low proportion of students who pursue professional careers. It will also consider potential earnings when determining whether a degree provides sufficient value.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stated, "The United Kingdom is home to some of the world's finest universities, and earning a degree can be extremely rewarding." Too many young people, however, are sold illusory hopes and end up completing a low-quality course at the expense of taxpayers that does not offer the possibility of a respectable job. According to the OfS, 15 months after graduation, nearly one-third of graduates do not progress into highly skilled employment or further study.
The Office for Students is already given the right to investigate and sanction universities that provide degrees with subpar performance. However, the new rules would allow the regulator to limit the number of students enrolled in such courses. Current thresholds for full-time bachelor's degree candidates include 80% of students to remain in school, 75% of pupils to achieve course completion and 60% of graduates will pursue further education, professional employment, or other positive outcomes within fifteen months of graduation.
This announcement does not alter these criteria, and other aspects of the policy, such as the number of students who may be denied university admission in the future, are ambiguous. Education Minister Robert Halfon stated to sources that imposing limits on underperforming degrees will result in the improvement of those programs.
He stated that the OfS, and not the federal government, will be responsible for any course enrollment restrictions. He indicated that the OfS would use "existing powers" to investigate low-quality courses, stating, "We can't order the Office for Students to do anything."
Education spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, Munira Wilson, stated that the prime minister was out of ideas and had dug up a policy the Conservatives announced and then unannounced twice over. The concept originated in a 2018 review commissioned by Theresa May, who was Prime Minister at the time. The same review also suggested that more money should be invested in education and that tuition fees should be reduced, but neither of these recommendations have been implemented.
The new pledge comes before Thursday's by-elections in three Conservative-held seats. The government also announced that the utmost fees universities can charge for classroom-based foundation-year courses will be reduced from £9,250 to £5,760.
Courses in the foundation year are intended to help students prepare for degrees with specific entry requirements or knowledge, such as medicine and veterinary sciences. The University Alliance, which represents professional and technical institutions, stated that cutting fees for foundation year courses was "disappointingly retrograde" and "renders them financially unviable to deliver."