Mandelson wants students pickier – and poorer

By Alex Stevenson

Peter Mandelson has called on universities to help students be pickier – but backed proposals to increase tuition fees further.

The business secretary’s framework for higher education focuses on introducing more competition between universities, who will be forced to fight for contestable funding. Key areas such as science, technology, engineering and maths will be prioritised.

“In the decade ahead we will expect more from our universities than ever before,” Lord Mandelson said in a statement to the Lords.

“They will need to use their resources more effectively, reach out to a wider range of potential students and devise new sources of income, at the same time as they maintain teaching and research excellence.”

The framework also laid out the parameters of an impending review which is not expected to report until after the general election.

Lord Mandelson defended the introduction of fees, describing it as “a very bold and successful policy”.

He told the Today programme: “I don’t think it is reasonable for us to burden one particular funding or financing source for universities on one particular group. I’m also looking to business to be more engaged both in the funding and the design of university programmes.”

It is believed tuition fees could be increased to £5,000 a year without impacting on student numbers. In return for a hike the business secretary wants students to get more out of their time in higher education.

He wants universities to be clearer about “outcomes” students can expect from courses, in terms of earnings and typical career opportunities.

On access, universities will be encouraged to consider a student’s background in the admissions process.