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Student Loans: Government plans to restrict access widely opposed

University associations, The University Alliance, Universities UK, MillionPlus, and the National Union of Students (NUS) have all criticised Government plans to limit access to student loans for those that fail to achieve minimum grades at GCSE or A-Levels. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) also highlighted that these proposals would leave one in four recent undergraduates on free school meals excluded.

Proposal and aims

Planned reforms to the student loan system in England are aimed at reducing the number of ‘low value’ courses taken by students. The reforms would prevent applicants who had not achieved at least a grade 4 or C in English and Maths at GCSE level from accessing student loans and (in many cases) therefore university.

These plans were put out for consultation and Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister has today stated that they were to “start a conversation” and added that “we might not do it.”

The backlash

The IFS found that the proposals would have disproportionately disadvantaged ethic minorities. Under these plans, around 23% of black undergraduates at English universities would have failed to qualify for student loans as well as 13% of undergraduates from Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds. Only 7% of white British undergraduates would have failed to access the loans.

NUS President, Larissa Kennedy said: “This government parrots the language of ‘levelling up’ but these proposals are classist, ableist and racist: they cruelly target those from marginalised communities and seek to gatekeep education.”

 “The areas of focus for the proposed higher education reforms are way off the mark and, if implemented, the casualties … will be the poorest and most disadvantaged in society.”

Vanessa Wilson, Chief Executive at Universities Alliance

Final Thought

There are two potential explanations for the mess the Government has found itself in. Either it is committed to these proposals and the current backlash will be ignored, or it has allowed policy to be released well before it was ready for prime time.

If the former, then this could be damaging for the Government in the long term. Nobody wants students taking university courses that do not add value to a student’s CV, but it is important to remember one thing: measuring value added is hard and measuring who is excluded is simple.

If it is the latter, then it speaks to careless policy making by a Government running out of road to make any serious changes.

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