ABB policy may help new more than old

New universities may get the most from policy change, argues GuildHE head. Jack Grove reports

September 26, 2013

Growing numbers of students attaining high BTEC scores mean that many post-1992 universities seem better placed to expand their intake under the ABB policy than their pre-1992 peers, a sector figure has said.

Statistics released by Ucas show that much of the growth in university entrants achieving at least ABB at A level or the equivalent comes from vocational BTEC courses such as business, engineering or accounting.

The number of students accepted on to courses this autumn with BTEC grades worth the same as ABB is 28,580, 12 per cent higher than last year. The number of A-level students accepted with ABB or above is up 6 per cent.

It means that more than a quarter of about 111,000 students who achieved ABB or the equivalent – who thanks to coalition policy are now exempt from number controls – are studying vocational courses.

New universities that offer vocational courses more aligned to BTECs could be better placed to attract this growing cohort than traditional universities, suggested Andy Westwood, chief executive of Guild HE, which represents small and specialist higher education institutions.

“Those applicants with equivalent qualifications may make different decisions about what constitutes the ‘best’ universities,” Mr Westwood told Times Higher Education.

With universities able to recruit unlimited numbers of high-flying vocational students, many more may soon start to compete for them rather than simply seeking to attract A-level applicants, he added.

“If universities wish to recruit only specific types of student demonstrating specific aptitudes via A-level results at 18, not all will be able to succeed,” he said. “But the number of applicants with vocational qualifications…means there will be a steady supply of newly qualified people in this category.”

Institutions would also need to adapt their courses to ensure that those from vocational backgrounds used to more practice-based learning can succeed, Mr Westwood added.

“Universities may decide to look in some way beyond their traditional models…and to diversify the way they structure…courses as well as their recruitment practices,” he said.

Mr Westwood’s comments come after Mary Curnock Cook, the head of Ucas, warned in THE last month that universities faced a “moving target” over ABB.

The Ucas data, published on 24 September, also confirm that student numbers have bounced back after falling sharply last year as £9,000 tuition fees were introduced.

Four weeks after A-level results day, 445,820 students had accepted places – 9 per cent up on 2012.

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