Several British universities apparently are offering cash incentives to students to induce them to enroll in unpopular degree programs, according to an investigation by London’s Sunday Times in which undercover reporters posed as students seeking spots.
A female reporter was offered £1,000, or $2,000, to enroll in Leicester University’s undergraduate physics program and was told “that she was a strong candidate for the money partly because women were ‘underrepresented’ on the course,” the Times reported. About a third of the undergraduates in the university’s physics department are women, which the Times notes “is above the national average.”
Alan Smithers, director of Buckingham University’s Center for Education Research, told the newspaper that offering money based solely on gender was an “alarming” result of the government’s attempts at “social engineering.”
Last week, recent British high-school graduates received the results of their A-level examinations, which determine university admissions. Most places have been already allocated based on students’ anticipated grades, but universities are still scrambling to fill undersubscribed courses, and students whose grades did not meet expectations are still trying to secure spots, in a process known as “clearing.” More than 100,000 students are eligible to use the clearing system this year, Britain’s Press Association reported last week.
All but a handful of undergraduate courses of study cost the government-set maximum annual tuition of approximately $6,000, but the newspaper noted that the “booming market in cash awards to fill some courses” represents an effort by institutions, “reluctant to appear cheap,” to effectively offer discounted rates while officially charging the national norm. Institutions market the payments as scholarships, the newspaper said, but pay them directly into students’ bank accounts instead of reducing their fees, and award them without regard to financial need. —Aisha Labi