Hefce's fair access plans for ABB extension

Selective universities could be granted extra student numbers to allow them to admit disadvantaged applicants with potential but without the highest grades.

January 3, 2013

In a circular letter to institutions about 2013-14 student numbers sent on 18 December, the Higher Education Funding Council for England says that it could allow flexibility on the government’s “ABB” policy to help selective universities to grant fair access.

Vice-chancellors and other senior sector figures have raised concerns on fair-access grounds about the government’s policy to allow universities unlimited recruitment of students with the highest grades. They fear it could hinder institutions’ ability to accommodate disadvantaged students without top grades.

So as not to create extra spending on student finance, the government must estimate the likely number of students with ABB or above at A level, recruitment of whom will not be capped from this autumn, and deduct that number from the “core” allocation granted to universities. The move is an extension of this year’s policy of allowing unlimited recruitment of students with AAB or above.

Universities with high proportions of ABB students will thus have only a small number of non-ABB places to accommodate students without top grades.

Hefce says that “the student number control limits we have set provide all institutions with sufficient numbers to offer fair access”.

However, it adds that “if for any reason institutions believe that the provisional limits…are insufficient to allow them to maintain fair access…they should submit an appeal for an increase to the limit (by 1 February 2013), supported with appropriate evidence”.

The letter also says that universities falling short of their core student number allocations this year will not have their allocations cut next year unless the shortfalls are “extreme”.

Hefce says the approach, which reverses its previous guidance, recognises that “due to transient effects from the introduction of the new fee regime, 2012-13 might be an atypical year for recruitment”.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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