UUK president fires back at government criticism

Prof Julie Buckingham, president of Universities UK, said the department for education must reintroduce maintenance grants

The president of Universities UK (UUK) has fired back at government criticism of the sector’s record on student inequality.

Prof Julie Buckingham, vice-chancellor of Brunel University and president of UUK, sent a letter to the education secretary after he said universities were failing to address inequalities for disadvantaged students.

Gavin Williamson said universities were failing white working-class boys and black students, and told the sector to “up your game and get on with it”.

Prof Buckingham said the sector accepted it must do more but that progress depended on government funding.

In her letter, the UUK president criticised the government’s withdrawal of maintenance grants and called for their reintroduction. Maintenance grants were withdrawn in 2016 meaning students from low-income homes had to instead apply for additional loans.

Read more: Leading universities join national widening access scheme

Prof Buckingham said the government must fund collaboration between schools, colleges, universities and businesses to support disadvantaged students accessing paid internships. Workplace experience improved degree outcomes and graduate starting salaries, she said.

She also called for the government to increase funding for the Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes (TASO). The ‘what works’ centre was opened in February 2019 by the Office for Students to help universities eliminate equality gaps in higher education within 20 years.

Prof Buckingham said only “a well-funded ‘what works’ centre has the potential to support a transformative effect in educational outcomes”.

The letter to Mr Williamson also called on him to support and champion foundation years and expand degree apprenticeships.

A UUK report released in July 2019 said: “Bold action is needed from government to reform the system so many more people can become degree apprentices.”

The ‘The future of degree apprenticeships’ report recommended:

  • Government lead a campaign to promote the benefits of degree apprenticeships to employers and the public
  • Government should invest in initiatives to support social mobility, lifelong learning, and the growth in degree apprenticeships among underrepresented groups
  • Make it easier for employers to include a degree within their apprenticeships

Read more: ‘We are still a long way from equality’ – OfS


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