Student loans may not be available for teenagers with poor A-level results, under Government plans to overhaul university funding.
Ministers are considering the imposition of minimum entry requirements on institutions in an attempt to crack down on the number of students taking up places at university which they are not suited to.
The disclosure came in the Department for Education’s interim response to an official review of higher education – known as the Augar review – which recommended tuition fees should be capped at £7,500.
It came as the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told the House of Commons he wanted to increase the funding for “strategic” subjects such as medicine and engineering and “slash” the taxpayer funding for courses such as media studies.
Officials remained silent on the issue of a tuition-fee cut, and said instead they will freeze tuition fees at £9,250 a year for another year.
Led by Philip Augar, the former equities broker, the review was the first one since 1963 that the Government ordered into higher and further education.
The Augar review pointed out: “An increasing proportion of students with lower prior attainment are now attending university. We welcome this but not at any price.
“Low prior attainment, measured by A-level and BTec grades, is associated with dropping out from university studies, to the financial and often emotional cost of the student.”
It cited figures that show in the 2016/17 academic year, as many as 12.8 per cent of students with the equivalent to D and E grades at A-level, and 11.6 per cent of students with BTecs, dropped out in the first year of their degree.
This is about double the 6.3 per cent drop out rate for students as a whole. There is concern among officials about the high drop-out rate at universities, particularly among those who received low A-level grades.
One way to limit this would be to refuse student loans to anyone with grades below a certain threshold, meaning they could only take up a place at university if they financed it themselves.
The review recommended students under the age of 25 could be deemed ineligible for a student loan if their grades are below a certain level.
Vice-chancellors responded angrily to the suggestion students could be denied funds to study if their grades are too low, saying it would be a “regressive” move.
Professor Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK, said it would “prevent students from disadvantaged backgrounds whose prior educational experiences have adversely affected their grades from attending university and ignoring the evidence that many of these students excel at university”.
Elsewhere, officials said they want to ensure that “more of taxpayers’ money is spent on supporting provision which aligns with the priorities of the nation”.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed a host of subjects – including performing arts, music, dance, drama and archaeology – will have their funding cut by 50 per cent.
These subjects are currently categorised as ‘high-cost’ degrees, meaning they receive extra funding from the Government through the teaching grant, an annual lump sum worth millions that is distributed among universities.
However, under the new system, these ‘non-strategic’ subjects will lose their extra funding, meaning universities may have to run them at a loss.
Ministers said they would launch a formal consultation later this year detailing a series of reforms to higher education aimed at improving the quality of degrees as well as ensuring there is a “financially sustainable student finance system”.
Hinting at possible reforms to the way degrees are financed, officials noted the “significant and growing taxpayer subsidy” to universities. They said it is important that “those who benefit from their higher education should make a fair contribution”.