Concessions forced on student places plans

Funding chiefs have made a series of changes to the plans for student number controls in 2012-13 in an attempt to alleviate concerns about their impact on social mobility, “vulnerable” subjects and specialist colleges.

October 17, 2011

In the recent White Paper, the government announced its intention to remove from core quotas all student places currently filled by those with grades of AAB or better at A level. These would then be opened up to full competition.

However, under the revisions published today by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, no institution – even those where almost all students are AAB+ – will see student number controls removed completely. Instead, all universities will retain a limit equal to at least 20 per cent of their places for 2011-12.

“This follows comments…that the removal of AAB+ equivalent students from the student number control would leave them with limited flexibility to maintain or improve access for students without such qualifications,” Hefce says in a statement.

Student places in “vulnerable” subjects such as science and engineering will also receive protection from the plans to create a price-based “margin” of 20,000 places in 2012-13.

The move follows concerns that the plan would affect these subjects more than others, since fewer students studying them achieve top grades at A level.

Hefce says it will exclude numbers associated with strategically important and vulnerable subjects (SIVs) – which also includes languages – “on condition that institutions maintain at least their entrant levels to SIVs courses”.

“This follows consultation responses arguing that we should protect SIVs and/or science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects, either by excluding them from the calculation to create the margin, or by prioritising them in the redistribution of the margin,” the statement says.

Hefce also says that specialist institutions mainly offering degrees in subjects such as music or drama would be able to opt out of the whole student number control process due to the fact that they “recruit primarily on the basis of audition or portfolio”.

However, each institution will have to submit an “evidence statement” if it wishes to do so.

Meanwhile, all universities will benefit from a “buffer” when Hefce cuts their student numbers to create the 20,000 margin, as the funding council plans to “disregard” the first 50 places when it makes its calculation. It is hoped this will benefit smaller providers as they will see little or no cut in numbers.

In making its announcement, Hefce also launched its bidding process for the 20,000 places, inviting applications from universities and further education colleges but not private providers charging less than £7,500 after fee waivers.

Institutions wanting to make bids have until 11 November to submit an application, and can reapply to the Office for Fair Access before that date if they want to lower their post-waiver fee, according to the Hefce statement.

simon.baker@tsleducation.com

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