Hepi's cap lifting warning

‘Rushed’ policy took no notice of ‘precedents at home or abroad’, says report

September 18, 2014

The coalition government’s abolition of student number controls could lead to a “substantial decline” in funding per student, as well as increased recruitment of European Union students and a bonanza for for-profit colleges.

The Higher Education Policy Institute outlines these possible outcomes in a pamphlet, A Guide to the Removal of Student Number Controls, written by the organisation’s director Nick Hillman, former adviser to David Willetts in his time as universities and science minister.

Mr Hillman notes that there were “practical, economic and political reasons behind the announcement”, made last December. But he also says that “the policy was put together rapidly, with little attention to precedents at home or abroad that might have served as a useful guide. It remains fuzzy.”

And he says the abolition of the cap “is not inevitable”, as Labour “have criticised the policy and wish to retain some control over the provision of new places”.

George Osborne, the chancellor, originally said the lifting of number controls – costing £5.5 billion over the next five years, according to MPs on the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee – would be paid for by the sale of pre-2012 student loans. But Vince Cable, the business secretary, has since said that the Liberal Democrats would not allow the sale of student loans to proceed.

And senior civil servants have told MPs that the abolition of the cap does not rely on the loan sale.

Mr Hillman notes that the continuing climate of austerity already challenges existing higher education spending, adding that “while the coalition has said the extra places will be fully funded, precedent suggests future politicians may not regard this as a binding commitment”.

He adds: “The end result could be a substantial decline in the unit of resource (the amount available for each student’s education), changes to student loans to recoup more of the costs or even the reimposition of number controls in some form.”

Mr Hillman also says that “there will be clearer incentives for institutions to recruit EU students” when number controls are removed, including “increasing income” and “mitigating the effect of demographic change” given the declining population of 18-year-olds in the UK.

As the Student Loans Company already faces major difficulties forcing EU students to repay their loans once they have graduated and returned home, “the challenges in collecting loan repayments from people outside the UK will become even more significant”, says Mr Hillman.

He adds: “Ministers also appear not to have joined up their commitment to remove student number controls with their tough rhetoric on immigration.”

On for-profits, Mr Hillman notes their growth in the US and says: “International experience…suggests those institutions with the potential to grow most rapidly could be in the non-traditional sector, particularly for-profit institutions.”

He continues: “So the next government will face the same challenge that the current one has flunked: how to implement a proportionate, clear and equitable regulatory regime encompassing different sorts of providers.”



You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

PhD Scholar in Medicine

University Of Queensland

Manager, Research Systems and Performance

Auckland University Of Technology

Lecturer in Aboriginal Allied Health

University Of South Australia

Lecturer, School of Nursing & Midwifery

Western Sydney University

College General Manager, SHE

La Trobe University
See all jobs

Most Commented

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations

Mitch Blunt illustration (23 March 2017)

Without more conservative perspectives in the academy, lawmakers will increasingly ignore and potentially defund social science, says Musa al-Gharbi

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham