Scrap university admissions monitor, say Tories

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The Independent Online

The Government was accused yesterday of watering down its proposals for a regulator who will have the power to prevent universities charging top-up fees of as much as £3,000.

The Government was accused yesterday of watering down its proposals for a regulator who will have the power to prevent universities charging top-up fees of as much as £3,000.

The central role of the regulator, nicknamed Oftoff, will now be in monitoring universities' attempts to increase applications from disadvantaged students rather than judging changes to the social mix of an institution, as had previously been predicted.

The Government's proposals to recruit higher numbers of disadvantaged students to higher education have been at the centre of controversy since independent schools claimed that their pupils were being rejected by Bristol University in favour of less-qualified candidates from poorer backgrounds.

A White Paper published in January set three objectives for the regulator, including "more rigorous admission regimes". Yesterday the Department for Education and Skills said the focus would be on the other two objectives – encouraging applications from state school pupils by monitoring universities' efforts to establish bursaries and doing outreach work with schools and colleges.

A spokesman also suggested that the title of the new watchdog would reflect the change of emphasis.

Damian Green, the Conservative Party's education spokesman, accused the Government of a U-turn. He said: "They are in full-scale retreat, they recognise the strength of feeling against social engineering and they are trying to play it down. It would be far better if they just admitted that this whole idea was a bad mistake and just scrapped it completely.It was just a piece of class warfare designed to buy off the Labour left over tuition fees."

But a spokesman for the department denied there was any watering-down of the proposals and said that the role of the regulator would centre on applications and not the minutiae of admission.

He said: "The regulator will have to make a judgement on whether a university is doing enough to encourage more applications and has high-quality bursaries and outreach in place."

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