Thinktank’s plans to spread university news to the poor (UK)

By Jack Grove

Bolder measures are required to ensure students from poorer families have access to information about university courses, a thinktank has said. In a report titled Informed Decisions: Tackling Inequalities in Higher Education, CentreForum – which has links to the Liberal Democrats – puts forward a five-point plan to make information more accessible for students, particularly applicants whose families have little experience with the academy. The recommendations come ahead of the launch of Key Information Sets (KIS) in September, when universities will be required to feature data such as average graduate incomes and employment rates on their websites.

But the report’s author, Gill Wyness, said the government needed to do more to ensure that information reaches those from poor backgrounds, who are generally less aware of the costs, experience and long-term benefits of going to university. “The government wants to empower students by offering information that will help them make good decisions. We fear that many people will never see this information,” she said.  “Poorer students could be left in the dark.”

Measures to boost the visibility of information about universities could include personalised financial information about the cost of higher education in all child tax credit statements, the report suggests. “A parent would be presented with guaranteed grant and loan amounts – personalised to their family member – with the option to apply instantly for this funding,” it says. “If the coalition really wants to give talented young people all the information they need to decide whether to invest in a university degree, it should follow this far bolder approach.”

Other proposals include offering cash incentives to schools that are successful in getting pupils to look at KIS data and the introduction of “automatic enrolment” schemes similar to the system in Texas, where the top 10 per cent of state school students are automatically given university places. Other interventionist schemes should also be considered, the report adds. “Perhaps a better alternative would be to provide students with key information at the point of their GCSE results,” it suggests. “For example, alongside their…results, students who achieved a certain minimum standard…could be given details of the top five universities that those with the same GCSE results are proportionately most likely to go to.”

Source: Times Higher Education