Milburn proposals could threaten autonomy, force universities to foot the bill for scrapped Government schemes and restrict opportunities, warns 1994 Group

The 1994 Group of research-intensive universities has responded to Alan Milburn's review of access to higher education.


Alex Bols, 1994 Group Executive Director, said:


“Alan Milburn’s report is an important contribution and we wholeheartedly support some of the principles it sets out. We agree that universities have an important role to play in aiding social mobility and need to share the heavy lifting to provide opportunities for talented people from all backgrounds.


“In particular, we are pleased that Mr Milburn has called for a focus on outreach over cash handouts. Well targeted outreach work remains the best way of raising aspirations and attainment to ensure that students with the potential to achieve in higher education take up the opportunity to do so.


“However, some of Mr Milburn’s recommendations give real cause for concern.


“First, while Milburn says that universities are autonomous institutions that should be free to determine their own admissions criteria, he proposes measures that would serve only to erode university autonomy. His proposals for the sector to collectively set out ‘statistical targets’  for the next five years , for a blanket requirement to offer lower entry requirements to those meeting certain social criteria, and for a nationally imposed form of contextual data are alarmingly centralist.


“Each university faces a distinct set of admissions challenges and is uniquely placed to determine the most appropriate ways of meeting them. While a national framework of support would be a useful resource, nationally applied mandates would do more harm than good.


“Milburn also suggests universities step in with financial support to encourage students to stay in school beyond 16. In effect this is a call for universities to replace the Education Maintenance Allowance. It is entirely wrong to expect universities to foot the bill for withdrawn Government funding in this way, even though many may choose to include such support in their outreach work.


“Finally, Milburn paradoxically points to the inequity of uncapping student number controls only for AAB students while calling for the system to remain for at least two admissions cycles. As the 1994 Group has successfully argued, restricting recruitment flexibility to such a small cohort does little to widen opportunity to talented students from a wider range of backgrounds. This is why the Government has seen sense and uncapped student caps for those with ABB grades from next year. Contrary to Milburn we call on the Government to go further and phase out number controls altogether over the next few years.


“We can all agree on the importance of recruiting from an ever widening talent pool, but eroding university autonomy, calling on them to pay for programmes that the Government should be funding, and keeping restrictions on the available opportunities is not the way to go.”





Media Contact:
Mark Fuller

0207 872 5596

07952 286 223



Notes to Editors:

1.    The 1994 Group represents the UK’s leading student-focused research-intensive universities. It was established in 1994 to promote excellence in University research and teaching.


2.  9 of the top 20 universities in the Guardian University Guide 2012 league tables are 1994 Group members. 5 of the top 20 universities in the 2012 Sunday Times University League Table are 1994 Group members. 6 of the top 20 universities in the 2012 Complete University Guide are 1994 Group members. The University of Bath is the Sunday Times University of the year.

3. The 1994Group represents: University of Bath, Birkbeck University of London, University of East Anglia, University of Essex, Goldsmiths University of London, Institute of Education University of London, Royal Holloway University of London, Lancaster University, University of Leicester, Loughborough University, University of Reading, University of St Andrews, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of Surrey, University of Sussex.

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