Former Labour minister Alan Milburn was appointed as the Coalition Government's Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility. Following his previous reports, his final report, “University Challenge: How Higher Education Can Advance Social Mobility” has now been published.
Amongst other points, the report recommends that:
- the higher education sector sets out statistical targets for widening participation and fair access over the next 5 years;
- the Government acts to ensure that schools raise overall standards, and narrow the “attainment gap” between less well-off and better-off students;
- the HE sector undertakes urgent research to ensure that spending on school outreach activity is well targeted. The report questions the effectiveness of bursaries and fee waivers as a method of widening participation or securing fair access, and proposes that funds should be targeted on better outreach activity, for example by supporting extra school tuition for disadvantaged students. It encourages the Office for Fair Access to report on whether the sector responds to this, and recommends that the Russell Group and other representative bodies devise a scheme to help disadvantaged pupils achieve the required exam results for entry to higher education;
- “Universities should offer guaranteed interviews and where appropriate, lower offers to less-advantaged pupils in schools that they support. They should also offer guaranteed admissions interviews to those who successfully complete a university-preparation programme, such as a summer school”;
- a strategic review should be undertaken of the total pool of public funding dedicated to widening participation (including funding through the National Scholarship Programme, HEFCE grant and universities' own financial resources);
- consideration is given to introducing “pupil premium” type funding arrangements, where eligible applicants would bring additional funding with them. It says that a new national funding programme should be in place by autumn 2013;
- a set of universal “contextual data” be agreed for use in the admissions process (e.g. family income, parents’ education). The HE sector’s representative bodies are asked to agree a “common statement of support”, with an agreed dataset in place for the 2014/15 admissions cycle;
- the sector should be encouraged to share anonymised student data with organisations such as “Which?”, to “encourage a market in comparable and accessible information about courses and universities”;
- the HE sector should agree how online learning can be developed to broaden access;
- the HE sector embeds foundation year programmes in the mainstream of higher education, and allows recognition of foundation programmes from other universities;
- highly selective universities who make less use of contextual data should be challenged to ensure that they make a correspondingly greater effort to ensure that offers are made to state-educated pupils who are capable of achieving the necessary grades. The report also recommends that they each agree to sponsor an Academy school in a deprived area, provide wider foundation degree opportunities, and that they take ownership of the “teach first” programme;
- resources are targeted on initiatives that have an impact on retention rates;
- the HE sector considers what support can be provided to help students complete their studies;
- the HE sector is clear about the workplace capabilities they aim to provide students with. It also proposes that “outcomes focused league tables” should be in place by autumn 2013. The report proposes that the league tables reflect how effective each course is in providing a range of skills and achieving career paths, with an institutional rating being produced from the aggregate of its course ratings;
- a new funding model is adopted for postgraduate study.
The report also looks at government policy on student fees, the numbers cap, the replacement of the Education Maintenance Allowance and funding for careers advice.