Universities planning to charge some of the highest fees should recruit more than 90% of their students from state schools, the senior Liberal Democrat MP charged with improving access for the less well-off has suggested.
Simon Hughes, an opponent of raising fees who was this month appointed the Government’s Advocate for Access to Education, said there needed to be radical changes in the balance of privately and publicly-educated young people doing degrees.
The Lib Dem deputy leader, who abstained in the key Commons vote allowing institutions to almost treble fees to £9,000, said universities had “failed miserably” at reflecting society.
His comments came in an interview with The Guardian, which said around 7.2% of young people in England attended private schools but went on to make up more than a quarter of students at the 25 most selective institutions, 46.6% at Oxford.
“Every university should, wherever their fee level is, but specifically for a fee level above £6,000, recruit on the basis of no more people coming from the private sector than there are in the public as a whole,” he said.
“I don’t believe you have to look to the private sector to give you the quality of exam results and ability to make up the numbers to fill the places.
“If you’re really going to be radical about these things, then you have to say ‘access’ means you seek to reflect society in your recruitment policy.
“And most people in society go to local authority schools, not to private schools, and therefore most people from all universities, including Russell Group universities, should do that. And it doesn’t mean lowering standards.”
Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, said the Government should not “interfere” with admissions policies but help make it easier for state school pupils to secure places.
That could include allowing the setting of lower A-level requirements than for privately-educated students.