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Gill Wyness and Tom Frostick: Why Conservatives should back efforts to tackle information inequalities in higher education

Gill Wyness is an education researcher at CentreForum, the liberal think tank, and LSE. Tom Frostick is head of press and communications at CentreForum

A lot of university students are failing to maximise their talent. In 2009/10, 9,000 of the 56,000 people who got AAB+ at A level went to universities where less than 10% of students achieved such grades. Some of them will have applied to specialist courses offered only at a handful of institutions, but many more will have been overqualified for their courses. They may simply have been unaware that the experience and long term benefits of going to university differs significantly from one institution to the next.

David Willetts wants to get a grip on this problem – information inequalities – by requiring universities to publish Key Information Sets (KIS) on their websites. The idea behind the KIS is spot on: make facts about courses, tuition fees, bursaries, scholarships, accommodation costs and future employment prospects readily available and easy to access. Our concern is that too few people will see this information if it is made available solely through university websites.

CentreForum wants the Government to do more. Child tax credit statements could be adapted to contain personalised information on fee, maintenance loan and grant eligibility for everyone aged 16 to 18. The government knows the relevant household income so can tell parents exactly how much grant and loan their children will get if they go to university. Pupils from non traditional backgrounds can be reassured that university is affordable – if, of course, they are bright enough and hard working enough to get the grades.

The Government should go even further by launching a national awareness campaign, making it clear that no one pays any upfront fees, and by offering cash incentives to schools that are successful in getting pupils to look at the KIS. Pupils who get the right A level grades to attend university should know the facts when they apply. They should not be at a disadvantage simply because of the school they went to or because of who their parents are.

We urge Conservatives to get behind these proposals. It is in our long term national interest to get talented individuals into university and particularly the best university for them. Those who don't will ultimately earn below their potential and make lower contributions to taxes later in life.


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