Student makeup stagnates with tuition fees

The unchanging social makeup of university students following the introduction of tuition fees is cause for concern, not celebration, a union has warned.

A report published today by Universities UK reveals there has been “no significant change” in the social class, age or ethnicity of applicants from 2004/05 to 2007/08.

It concludes: “There is nothing in the available data that indicates that the introduction of variable fees in England has yet had any lasting impact on the level or pattern of demand for full-time undergraduate education.”

This, according to the Universities and College Union (UCU), suggests the government’s higher education policies are failing.

“Whilst it is encouraging that student numbers have not decreased in our universities, it is extremely worrying that there has been no change in the number of students from the very backgrounds the government is spending considerable sums of money on persuading to apply,” UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said.

“We remain unconvinced that asking students to pay more for a university education is the best way to encourage those from poorer backgrounds to apply.”

Despite this, the report insisted the introduction of variable tuition fees “appears so far to have had no discernible impact on the mix of individuals applying to enter full-time undergraduate programmes”.

The government allowed universities to begin charging up to £3,000 in 2006 in a move which critics said would deter many would-be students from applying.

Overall, today’s figures found the increase in applicants for 2008 stood at nine per cent.

The UCU was also critical that universities are not doing enough when it comes to student support.

Today’s report found financial assistance for low-income families had not met expectations but that this was partly reflected by “unfamiliarity on the part of some eligible students with their entitlement under the new system”.

Ms Hunt condemned the “surplus pots of cash in institutions’ bursary pools”, calling for exploration of a “simpler and fairer scheme” to manage the funds.