Universities in the U.K have been told to be ambitious in their graduate job targets

Universities in England have been advised to establish ambitious goals to help students get into graduate jobs, with vice-chancellors being asked to make social mobility “as much about getting on as it is about getting in,” according to the universities minister.

Universities will risk sanctions if they fail to cut dropout rates among disadvantaged students and set objectives for the proportion of students who go on to well-paid jobs at the conclusion of their term, according to plans monitored by the Office for Students (OfS), the higher education regulator.

“It is a fantastic achievement that so many disadvantaged students get into university but it is unacceptable that so many still find themselves on courses where fewer than 50% of those who start have good outcomes after leaving, or are encouraged on to courses that providers know have poor completion rates,” Michelle Donelan, the universities and colleges minister, told university leaders at a conference in London.

Universities would be required to create new five-year access and participation plans as a result of the revisions, which Donelan emphasized would need to be simply understandable by potential applicants. Institutions will be permitted to consider their own unique circumstances.

“From now on universities with poor outcomes will have to set ambitious targets for reducing dropout rates and improving progression to graduate employment,” Donelan said. “But they must be ambitious or the plans will not be approved by the OfS. And the OfS will then hold you to account for meeting those targets, with consequences if they are not met.”

Donelan also used the occasion to provide some specifics about the government’s promised lifelong loan entitlement, which Boris Johnson announced in September 2020 but would not be implemented until 2025.

Once operational, the entitlement will provide money for up to four years of education for adults in England, which can be used to pay for undergraduate or postgraduate courses, as well as technical or vocational certificates, or split over numerous modules and courses below degree level.

Donelan promised a policy dialogue and stated successful piloting short course bidders would be named soon.

Describing the loan entitlement as a revolution similar to the founding of the NHS, Donelan said: “It will usher in a complete culture shift … toward fulfilling the needs of those who stand to benefit from higher education and higher technical education but who at the moment do not see it as an option for them.”

She added: “I am calling on the entire sector to partner with us to help shape, publicise and deliver this once-in-a-generation reform.”

“It is encouraging to see a focus on part-time courses, higher technical qualifications, and degree apprenticeships,” said Steve West, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of UWE Bristol. “We look forward to working with government to boost demand for more diverse and flexible ways of learning.”

Universities, he said, remained “dedicated to expediting access to higher education, especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, while ensuring students enjoy a high-quality university experience.”

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