Universities that fail to improve student diversity could have their tuition fees cut by a third. This is a warning from the new university regulator after Oxford and Cambridge were in the spotlight over admissions.
Sir Michael Barber, chair of the Office for Students, said he is “interested in results, not just plans” in boosting student diversity at the most selective institutions in the UK.
His comments come after the two prestigious universities released admissions data showing that some Oxbridge colleges had admitted no black British students in recent years.
In an article for The Daily Telegraph, Sir Michael warned that he would use his powers to reduce the tuition fees cap from £9,000 to £6,000 if a university did not increase its intake of students from diverse backgrounds.
He wrote: “It is simply not acceptable for anyone’s background to be a barrier to accessing the rewarding opportunities that world-class universities offer, and we will not hesitate to use our powers when necessary to improve access and participation.”
Cambridge have hit back at criticism they have not done enough to attract more diverse applicants. They said they accepted a third of all male UK black students who achieved its A level entry criteria (A*A*A*) – a total of 58 black students.
In an open letter on admissions, senior leaders at the institution said: “The University of Cambridge cannot single-handedly fix this endemic problem of academic attainment which afflicts all levels of education and society as a whole, reflecting deeper-seated inequalities across the country.”
Elite universities not doing enough
This week Sam Gyimah, the universities minister, said Oxford and Cambridge’s failure to take in more students who are black or from less privileged backgrounds was “staggering”.
He criticised the elite institutions for not doing enough and warned they could be fined by the new higher education regulator if they do not meet admission targets.
However, speaking at the annual conference of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), Mr Gyimah told vice-chancellors: “It is easy to slip into thinking that the value of the university sector is best expressed through a debate about who is admitted to two of our 150 plus higher education institutions.
“But there is more to universities than admissions, and more to the sector than Oxbridge.”