Universities will be required to set ambitious targets to reduce dropout rates and improve graduate progression into high-paid skilled jobs under the Government’s levelling-up plans.
Higher education institutions will be expected to improve education outcomes for poorer children in local schools and colleges through activities – including offering lecturers and students to tutor pupils.
The new measures will help to stop universities simply recruiting students onto degree courses that lead to “dropping out, frustration and unemployment”, universities minister Michelle Donelan will suggest.
Ms Donelan will tell universities to rewrite their access and participation plans with tough targets to increase the proportion of students studying degree apprenticeships and higher technical qualifications.
The Department for Education (DfE) has said there will be a shift away from working only with those pupils with the potential to go onto university to an approach that improves education attainment.
Universities will be urged to improve outcomes for disadvantaged students in schools and colleges across their region by running summer schools, supporting curriculum development, or offering tutoring.
In a speech to the higher education sector on Wednesday, Ms Donelan, minister for higher and further education, will say: “We need to be making getting on as important as getting in.
“Gone will be the days where universities were recruiting students onto courses that lead to dropping out, frustration and unemployment. A student’s outcome after university needs to be as important to providers as a student’s grades before university.
“We need to send a message to every disadvantaged young person thinking about higher education that they will have the support through school, college and university to get there and achieve a positive outcome for themselves.”
The Office for Students (OfS) will ensure that new access and participation plans focus on ensuring that universities admit disadvantaged students onto courses that deliver positive outcomes – and they tackle dropout rates and support them into high skilled, high paid jobs after graduation.
The regulator will push for universities to work with more schools and colleges to raise standards so students get better qualifications, and it will call on institutions to offer more courses that are linked to skills and flexible learning.
John Blake, new director for fair access and participation at the OfS, said he was keen to see partnerships between universities and schools develop to improve attainment for disadvantaged pupils throughout their schooling.
He said: “But attainment and access are only the first steps: they need to be matched by participation and success. It is crucial that students are able to study on high quality courses which meet their needs, and are then supported so they are ready to embark on rewarding lives and careers after graduating.”
The Government has also announced £8 million investment to remove barriers to postgraduate research research for Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students, with thirteen projects which will look at targeting recruitment and increasing the number of BAME female professors.
Professor Steve West, president of Universities UK (UUK) and vice-chancellor of UWE Bristol, said: “Universities are central to social mobility and levelling up opportunity, and are committed to accelerating access to higher education, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, while ensuring students have a high quality university experience.
“Universities stand ready to play a full part in education recovery from the pandemic by reaching out further and wider to the talent of tomorrow and supporting efforts to raise school-age attainment.
“We look forward to working with John to build on the progress the sector has made by identifying areas for further improvement within access and participation plans to create more opportunities for students and help them to develop skills and reach their full potential.
“It is positive to see a focus on part-time courses, higher technical qualifications and degree apprenticeships and we look forward to working with government to boost demand for more diverse and flexible ways of learning.”