Plans to deny student loans to pupils who fail their English and maths GCSEs could deprive around one in four disadvantaged learners of a higher education place, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned.
It comes after the government’s own equality analysis concluded students with certain protected characteristics, such as those from black and ethnic minority groups and those with SEND, were “likely to be disproportionately impacted” by the proposed changes.
The think tank analysed the potential impact government proposals would have had on students who sat their GCSEs in 2011 and 2012. They focused on these cohorts so they could observe their degree outcomes.
The analysis found that almost one in four undergraduates from those cohorts who were eligible for free school meals at the age of 16 would not have been able to access student loans if a GCSE English and maths requirement was in place.
This compares to 9 per cent of state school pupils not eligible for free school meals, and just 5 per cent of private school pupils.
Bigger impact on black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani students
The analysis also found a GCSE requirement would have a “much bigger impact” on participation by black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani students than on white British students.
While around 7 per cent of white British undergraduates would have been affected, 18 per cent of Bangladeshi and Pakistani students would have been hit, and 23 per cent of black undergraduates.
The impact would be smaller if the requirement was two Es at A-level, rather than passes at GCSE, the IfS found. For example, an A-level threshold would affect only 5 per cent of undergraduates previously eligible for free school meals, while a GCSE threshold would affect 23 per cent.
The government says its reforms, set out in its response to the Augar Review of post-18 education, would “ensure students aren’t being pushed into higher education before they are ready”.
Most lower-attainers still graduate
A consultation has asked for views on making access to student finance dependent on having either two Es at A-level or at least a grade 4 in English and maths GCSE.
The IfS did find that students who did not achieve the minimum qualifications at school had worse degree outcomes than their peers. But it also found that close to 80 per cent still graduate, with around 40 per cent doing so with a first or upper second class degree.
The think tank also warned that a GCSE threshold would have excluded around 9 per cent of entrants to education courses from obtaining student loans.
A DfE spokesperson said no final decisions had been made about reforms.
“Evidence shows that students with lower prior attainment are less likely to complete their degree and get a ‘good’ classification, and more likely to have worse employment and degree outcomes.
“The aim of minimum eligibility requirements is to make sure that only those who will benefit from it, go on to study at degree level, regardless of their background.”