The coalition government plans to shake-up the English higher education sector by opening it up to increased private sector competition and introducing a new ranking system to ‘name and shame’ degree courses with poor job prospects.
Under proposals put forward in the long-awaited higher education White Paper, which is due to unveiled today, universities will be required to publish detailed information about the employment and earnings outcomes of specific degrees. The courses will be ranked in line with graduate employment rates and salaries and those that are not valued by employers will either be axed or overhauled.
The aim is to limit the losses to the taxpayer from those students who fail to repay their loans and to provide students with data that could help them make a more informed decision about their course of study.
Following an 80% cut in funding, two thirds of universities are currently seeking to charge the maximum £9,000 in tuition fees from next year, despite wide variations in employability. The government is also proposing to allow funding to follow each individual student, however, in an attempt to bring more “flexibility” into the system.
Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Universities Minister David Willetts said that, under the new system, “money will go with students” and universities that are successful in attracting them should be allowed to expand, although the number of overall places would remain roughly at current levels.
Organisations would be allowed to create more places for students with grades of at least AAB at A-level. They would also be able to bid for a percentage of places above a “core” number, with the move expected to open up more opportunities for private sector providers.
At present only five private bodies in England have degree-awarding powers, but the number is expected to grow. There are also plans to remove current barriers to entry for new providers, which could result in new institutions being set up or the creation of partnerships between universities and the private sector.
The white paper will be published just as research from the Association of Graduate Recruiters revealed that employers are now receiving 83 applications for every graduate job that they advertise, almost double the number (49) of two years ago and nearly treble (31) that of three years ago.