Universities will be forced to set ambitious targets for graduate jobs, drop-out rates, apprenticeships and tutoring the poor.
Under the major overhaul to be unveiled today, they will be fined if they cannot demonstrate they are helping students into good careers.
The move will stamp out ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses, which sound glamorous but do not lead to well-paid employment. It will be the first time universities are forced to take responsibility for where their students go, as part of the ‘levelling-up’ agenda.
It could mean the institutions lay on tutoring for pupils in schools and organise summer schools – even for those who do not intend to go into higher education.
Universities minister Michelle Donelan said the move was a ‘reboot’, adding: ‘Real social mobility isn’t just getting students to university.
‘It doesn’t get them anywhere if they just drop out after a year or if they complete with a degree that doesn’t unlock what they were hoping it would and lead to a good job.’
The move will stamp out ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses, which sound glamorous but do not lead to well-paid employment
She pointed to data showing that – at 25 universities – half of students ‘won’t be getting a good outcome’ due to dropping out or not going into a graduate job.
‘I don’t think that’s acceptable,’ she added. ‘I wouldn’t want that for my own children. I wouldn’t want that for the young people within my constituency.’
Under the plans, the Office for Students watchdog will set out the demanding targets.
Data shows that some low-ranking universities offer courses in subjects that promise lucrative rewards but instead deliver low earnings.
They will now have to boost graduate outcomes or face punishment.
The Government is placing more of an emphasis on graduate outcomes to ‘level up’ the sector
Measuring progress could be through the proportion of alumni in graduate jobs.
Officials would be sensitive to the type of subject – nursing is not a high-earning career but would still be considered a graduate job. Universities will be expected to ‘support’ students into jobs – by making sure courses are linked to skills and match employers’ needs.
The OfS will also demand progress from universities with high drop-out rates, over fears they are not giving students enough support to complete their degrees.
The watchdog will tell more universities to offer degree apprenticeships, which allow students to ‘earn while they learn’ in a vocational subject.
As part of the announcement, there will also be an £8million fund to remove barriers to post-graduate research for black, Asian and minority ethnic students, with projects looking at admissions and targeted recruitment.