Unis 'must recruit poorer students'
The UK's most selective universities will be expected to double the amount they spend on recruiting disadvantaged students in return for charging maximum tuition fees.
Institutions who want to charge £9,000 from 2012 will have to spend around £900 on widening access for every tuition fee they receive, according to new guidance published by the Office For Fair Access (OFFA).
This is roughly double the £400 top universities currently spend, OFFA said. The requirement is set out in OFFA's new guidance to universities on completing access agreements.
Every university planning to charge students more than £6,000 in fees from next year has to complete an agreement setting out how they plan to ensure students from disadvantaged students are not priced out.
These agreements will be reviewed each year, with institutions that fail to meet their agreed targets on recruitment and retention facing the prospect of fines, and losing the right to charge more than £6,000.
The document suggests that universities which currently have a low proportion of "under-represented" students, such as those from poorer backgrounds, or with disabilities, should be spending around 30% of their fee income above £6,000 on widening access, or "outreach" activities.
In comparison, it is suggested that institutions with a high proportion of under-represented students should spend around 15% of the fee they are charging above £6,000.
OFFA director, Sir Martin Harris said: "It is true that much progress has already been made in widening participation to the sector as a whole... but progress in improving access to the most selective universities has remained virtually flat."
The University Alliance, which represents 23 business-focused higher education institutions including Manchester Metropolitan, Oxford Brookes and Liverpool John Moores, warned that many of its courses cost as much as £10,000 to deliver.
The Alliance's director Libby Aston told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Many students at Alliance universities are on courses at the moment that cost between £7,000 and £10,000 to deliver. Obviously, if graduate contributions are much below that, we are going to have to reduce the quality of our courses. No student wants that, our universities are certainly not going to do that and it is not right for the economy in terms of the quality of graduates it needs."