Principled stand, not a 'clearing gamble'

June 14, 2012

The fines levied by the Higher Education Funding Council for England ("High stakes: £21m fines and 'blindfold poker'", News, 7 June) reveal real concerns with the student number controls now in place. It is not just about filling places via clearing: the issue is far more complex and includes protecting progression routes for students as part of the social inclusion agenda.

In Plymouth University's case, we work directly with partner colleges throughout the West and the South West of England, with some of our higher education places based in those colleges. Students, often mature learners and the first in their families to access higher education, enrol on foundation courses with the intention to progress to the main university to complete full honours degrees.

However, if they move from part-time to full-time status, they count not as simple transfers but as new entrants, despite the fact that they are already within Plymouth's student numbers allocation and have been with us for two years. This in part triggers a fine when we are simply delivering on our commitment to put students at the heart of the system.

Given the scale of our further education in higher education delivery, we appealed to Hefce against its decision because it appears contrary to the government's fair access policy. When the appeal was not upheld, we elected to take the fine rather than deny the students the chance to complete their degrees with us.

Plymouth has a long-term commitment to ensuring that talent irrespective of disadvantage can flourish. Far from taking a "clearing gamble", we were fined for adopting a principled position against a threat to social mobility - high stakes indeed.

Wendy Purcell, Vice-chancellor, Plymouth University

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