I think everyone has realised that the government can’t resist fiddling around with the university system. The removal of subsidies and resulting high fees are the best known, but that’s not all they’re doing.
Their rules on admissions http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-17871852 are effectively dividing students into “good” (grades ABB or better) and “other”. Universities will be able to take as many “good” students as they like, whatever their fees. However, numbers of places for “other” students will be cut unless the university charges fees below £7500.
Naturally, they say this is wonderful and all in everyone’s best interests, as “more students will be able to go to their first choice university”. Er…. not quite.
Firstly – is expansion always a good thing? Do you want to always be swamped in large lecture halls and tutorials, rather than part of a smaller group where the lecturers actually know who you are? Don’t think expansion is always good for schools – the one I teach in certainly benefits from being small – so I’d imagine it’s the same for universities.
The Russell Group unis, and others that charge fees above 7.5K, will have a disincentive to make offers to students who won’t meet these criteria, whatever the reason – which is likely to hamper their ability to bring in students from non-traditional backgrounds. It may even lead to them shutting some departments who don’t recruit majority ABB students.
Students who miss out on ABB will be really made to feel not wanted by this policy. OK, the government aren’t officially saying “unless you get ABB or above, you’re a bit rubbish”, but it’s going to feel like that. And universities are likely to make fewer allowances for exceptional circumstances affecting a good candidate’s performance on the day. It’s probably better for someone who just misses out on an AAB offer and gets ABB (they’ll probably still get taken), but someone who misses out on an ABB offer will be really sunk.
And there is likely to end up being a huge divide between the “ABB universities” and the “7.5K or less universities” – students with officially “good” grades are likely to be reluctant to attend the latter, even if they have the best course, since they will be perceived as less prestigious. Sure, no-one would say all universities are regarded as the same now – but that’s different to a clear division into two groups. Perhaps they will end up being “universities” and “polytechnics”, as part of Mr Gove’s desire to return to the world of his youth?