The UK government is planning to restrict universities from recruiting students to poor quality courses, according to a recent announcement from the independent regulator, the Office for Students (OfS).
The OfS will be asked to limit the number of students on courses that do not have "good outcomes" for graduates, such as high drop-out rates, low proportions of students going on to professional jobs, or courses with low earning potential.
Universities will be encouraged to improve the quality of their courses to avoid these restrictions.
The move has been welcomed by some as a necessary measure to ensure that students are not being sold a "false dream" and are not being let down by poor quality courses.
However, others have raised concerns that this could create barriers to opportunity for students in certain areas, and that it could be a "sledgehammer to crack a nut" if not implemented in a targeted and proportionate manner.
The government's proposal follows a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies which found that around one in five students would have been better off not going to university.
The OfS already has the power to investigate and sanction universities that offer degrees that fall below minimum performance thresholds, but the new rules would allow the regulator to limit student numbers for these courses.
The move has been criticized by the Labour Party, who argue that it is an attack on the aspirations of young people.
However, the government maintains that the proposal is aimed at ensuring that students are able to make informed choices about their courses and that poor quality courses will be improved by the imposition of recruitment limits.
The specific criteria for determining which courses are considered to be of poor quality and which courses may be subject to recruitment limits are still unclear.
It is also unclear how many students may be denied the opportunity to study at university as a result of these measures.
In a recent interview, a spokesperson for Universities UK, an organization representing universities in the UK, expressed concerns about a newly proposed cap on university fees.
The spokesperson argued that such a cap would limit the aspirations of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who may wish to pursue further education.
However, the UK has some of the highest completion rates among OECD countries, and overall satisfaction rates are high.
The idea of capping university fees was initially suggested in a 2018 review conducted under former Prime Minister Theresa May.
The review also recommended increasing education funding and reducing tuition fees, but these measures have not been implemented.
The new proposal to cap fees comes just ahead of three Conservative-held by-elections on Thursday.
In addition, the government has announced that it will reduce the maximum fees that universities can charge for foundation-year courses, from £9,250 to £5,760.
This change will affect 29,080 students currently studying foundation degrees.
Foundation-year courses are designed to prepare students for degrees with specific entry requirements or knowledge, such as medicine and veterinary sciences.
However, the government acknowledges that too many students are being encouraged to take foundation years in subjects like business, where it is not necessary.
University Alliance, which represents professional and technical universities, has criticized the decision to reduce fees for foundation-year courses, arguing that it will make them financially unviable to deliver.
Chief executive Vanessa Wilson expressed concerns that disadvantaged students and the "Covid
generation" would be negatively impacted by the proposal.
She added that the government had chosen "to berate one of the few UK sectors which is genuinely world-leading." Despite concerns from some organizations, the UK's regulatory framework for universities remains in place to protect student interests in instances where quality needs to be improved.
The government has emphasized the importance of maintaining high standards in higher education.