Universities may be fined if students don’t get jobs

Graduates
Graduates

Tens of thousands of undergraduates are studying at universities and colleges which face potential fines for students failing to get jobs or reporting high dropout rates.

New figures have been released by the Office for Students on Friday as the regulator seeks to clamp down on poor quality courses which saddle students with debt without improving their job prospects.

Universities and colleges will face fines of up to £500,000 for the first time when new minimum requirements for student outcomes are introduced next week.

Almost 56,000 students are studying at 35 universities and colleges which have failed to meet a requirement for 80 per cent of full-time students doing their first degree to progress into their second year of study.

They include the University of Bedfordshire, which has a progression rate of 70.8 per cent, and London Metropolitan University, at 77.7 per cent.

The Office for Students also found that more than 11,000 students are registered at 62 universities and colleges which do not presently meet a 60 per cent threshold for students securing professional jobs or training 15 months after graduating.

Universities failing to meet the threshold include University College Birmingham, at 46.8 per cent and Arts University Plymouth, at 55.1 per cent.

A total of 33 universities and colleges with almost 30,000 students are at risk of breaching new thresholds on dropout rates, which means that more than a quarter of students are dropping out before completing their degree. At London Metropolitan University, the dropout rate is 26 per cent.

Susan Lapworth, chief executive of the Office for Students, said that “too many students, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, are recruited onto courses with weak outcomes which do not improve their life chances”.

Fines may be imposed

Universities which fail to reach the new standards could face investigation, with potential sanctions including fines.

Different thresholds have been set for part-time and postgraduate courses. The regulator said it will also consider performance in individual subjects, to ensure “pockets of poor performance can be identified and addressed”.

Ministers have previously accused universities of running “threadbare” courses in order to get “bums on seats”. Earlier this year, Michelle Donelan, the former higher education minister, said it was “completely wrong” to think that just sending more students to university will help boost social mobility.

Research by TaxPayers’ Alliance in September found at least 10 examples of undergraduate degrees in subjects such as “wildlife media” and “tourism studies” still being offered will result in earnings below the average of £26,000 for non-graduates in England five years after graduation.

Courses criticised by the TaxPayers’ Alliance included Concept and Comic Art at De Montfort University in Leicester. The fee for UK students is £9,250 per year. However, the expected graduate salary of a Bachelor in Art from De Montfort after five years in the workforce is £24,497, according to Adzuna, the job search engine.

A De Montfort University spokesman said the Concept and Comic Art degree was “taught by highly skilled lecturers and practitioners and offers the chance for students to develop a wide range of skills and knowledge and the opportunity to progress to a number of careers”.

He added: “The value of a degree is much more than a resultant wage. It is also about contributing to life in a rich and varied way and the wellbeing and outlook of a graduate.”

A spokesman for Universities UK, which represents 140 institutions, said: “In the vast majority of cases, students going to university can expect to have a good experience, a world-leading education and being able to pursue their interests and goals.

“Information about students’ outcomes and progression is regularly used to inform course development. We welcome increased transparency across the sector, and continue to work with universities to ensure they communicate clearly the value of their courses to prospective students, employers and the public.”

She said that assessing “good” student outcomes should “include the wide range of benefits that students take from their university education, including meaningful and satisfying careers which have value far beyond income.