Tag Archives: participation

Higher education in 2013: the year of marketisation – but to what extent?

By Gill Wyness and Richard Murphy

This year has been a significant one for UK higher education, with the government rapidly moving the system away from a state-controlled sector towards a more marketised structure – to the applause of some and the growing malaise of others.

It culminated in the surprise removal of the long-standing student number controls, freeing up universities to recruit as many students as they wish. This comes 50 years after the anniversary of Lord Robbins’ seminal report on the expansion of higher education, with its vision that “courses of higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so.”

If 2013 has been the year of marketisation, how far towards a fully marketised system has UK higher education actually come? Let’s consider the statistics:

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Question: gender and university admissions

One key aim of this network is the ability for members to try and reach out to others doing work in a particular area. This month we have a question from one of our members concerning gender and university admissions, as follows:

There is concern around working class white men and access to HE – women are now more likely to get in to HE than men are to apply. This has been covered in the media http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/10449864/UCAS-chief-warns-over-worrying-university-gender-gap.html

But is this phenomenon to do with HE admissions, or rather is it a symptom of the difficulty women face in entering employment with opportunities for progression in local, low/medium skilled labour markets? This makes the opportunity cost of HE much lower for women than for men. Conversely, male dominance in those same labour markets makes the opportunity cost of HE much higher.

If you are able to help with this question, or have done some related research in this area, please leave a reply to this posting below.

Is our HE system too complicated?

Now that we have reached the 50th anniversary of the Robbins report, which paved the way for the mass expansion of the UK higher education system, it is worth examining whether our system of university finance has evolved accordingly.

In terms of finance, we’ve come a long way from the days of Robbins. Back in 1963, the system consisted largely of maintenance grants for poor students. There were none of the tuition fee loans, maintenance loans or bursaries that are such important aspects of today’s system. While we can argue about whether asking students to contribute to their education is a good or bad thing, there’s no doubt about the increasing complexity that the introduction of these aspects of finance has brought. Continue reading →

University admissions: can contextual data open doors to poorer students?

It is a disappointing fact that there remains a huge gulf in the university participation of pupils depending on their background or the school they went to. Yet despite what many think, the issue here is not aspiration –research suggests that around half of students in the poorest quintile of the socio-economic status distribution aspire to go to university at age 14, even though only around 13% go on to do so.

A recent report from the government’s social mobility taskforce suggests that one way to increase the number of students from poor backgrounds in Russell Group universities is to make greater use of contextual data in university admissions –

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The form barrier

Here’s the student finance (maintenance loan and grant, and tuition fee loan) application form for 2013:


It’s 34 pages long, with a 10 page section for parents to fill in all their income details…. e.g.


This would be OK for parents used to filling in tax returns etc – but what about those from lower socio-economic groups who are less likely to have to deal with such matters? Does it mean those from poorer backgrounds are put off applying?

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