Top universities warned over places for 'disadvantaged' students

 

Top universities in England were warned yesterday they face having to slash their fees if they fail to recruit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The warning came from Professor Les Ebdon, the Government’s choice to take over as head of the Office for Fair access – the university admissions watchdog.

Professor Ebdon, vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire University and chairman of the million+ university think-tank, told MPs he was willing to use “the nuclear option” to force universities in the Russell Group – which represents leading research universities such as Oxford and Cambridge – if they fail to meet targets for recruitment.

He was being grilled by members of the Commons select committee on business, innovation and skills  – who have the power to veto his appointment.

At present, all universities seeking to charge more than £6,000 a year in fees have to sign an agreement with OFFA committing them to making efforts to recruit more students from disadvantaged areas.

If they fail to meet agreed targets, they can be fined up to $500,000 or have their fees reduced to £6,000 a year.

Professor Ebdon told the MPs that the performance of Russell Group universities has been “patchy” – “The commitment (to widening participation) has been mixed”.

“There are some colleagues in the Russell Group universities who are just as passionate about widening participation as I am,” he said.

“I would be aiming to strengthen that opposition so that is the case throughout the whole university system.”

He added: “If they don’t do that, then there will be a point at which we will not be afraid to use sanctions.

“At present there are £500,000 fines – which are hardly sanctions at all but the other is to refuse to sign an access agreement.

“That’s a significant sanction – the nuclear sanction – and one has to use the nuclear sanction with subtlety.

“If you have a nuclear sanction, thought, you have to be prepared to use it and clearly I would be prepared if people didn’t meet their targets.”

Professor Ebdon said he would like to have had a wider range of sanctions at his disposal - “a tactical strike option would be welcome as well”

Figures showed the ratio between disadvantaged students had gone from one to six to one to seven in leading universities, he said, and it was important to reverse that trend.

He was questioned at length by MPs on his outspoken opposition to the new fees regime while the legislation on the new fees was being steered through the Commons by the Coalition Government.  He is a supporter of a graduate tax.

He said he would make it clear it was not part of his role as head of OFFA to comment on that issue.

Brian Binley, Conservative MP for Northampton South, told him frankly he could not see any evidence of business acumen in his c.v.

“I would like evidence of your business record and quite frankly you haven’t got one,” he said.  “That concerns me immensely.

“I see an educationalist which ha become an educational; bureaucrat but I don’t see anything that tells me you have a sense of the real world of business.”

Professor Ebdon said he  was  in charge of a budget worth £138 million a year as vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire University.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Arts and Entertainment
books New York Times slammed over summer reading list
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Reach Volunteering: Would you like to volunteer your expertise as Chair of Governors for Livability?

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

Ashdown Group: Payroll Administrator - Buckinghamshire - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + substantial benefits: Ashdown Group: Finance Admin...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine