Details of English student number controls unveiled

Universities who meet certain criteria can bid for extra students, while devolved nations express anger at limit on recruitment of English students

June 2, 2020

The Westminster government will impose student number controls to prevent universities “taking a recruitment approach which would go against the interests of students and the sector as a whole”.

English providers will have the number of students capped at their forecast growth plus 5 per cent, while universities in the devolved nations will not be able to increase their intake of English students by more then 6.5 per cent.

Institutions will also have the ability to bid for an additional 10,000 places in subjects that are “of strategic importance”, which will be allocated by the Department for Education. This includes 5,000 for healthcare courses.

To be eligible for these additional places – excluding teacher training or nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare subjects – institutions must hit certain criteria, including having high continuation rates and a high-skilled employment or further study rate of 75 per cent or higher.

If an institution over-recruits the government said it will reduce the maximum it can charge in tuition fees to “redress the balance”. If a university in a devolved nation over-recruits English students, the government will reduce the amount the institution is allowed to charge English students for tuition fees.

The amount institutions will have their tuition fees capped at will depend on how much they over-recruited.

The government said the introduction of the cap will ensure “a fair, structured distribution of students across providers”, stabilising the admissions system and helping safeguard the financial stability of providers.

In the wake of the coronavirus, some higher education providers had adopted admissions practices that “risked destabilising the admissions system”, such as increasing their use of unconditional offers, in an attempt to recruit a greater share of domestic students, according to the DfE.

This would have placed “some providers at risk of significant financial strain, as well as potentially being to the detriment of students who may have been induced to accept an offer from a provider that is not best suited to their needs”, the DfE said.

However, commentators have warned that the cap is too loose and will still allow more prestigious institutions to hoover up students from less prestigious institutions.

Ministers in the devolved nations also expressed outrage at the plans. Richard Lochhead, the further and higher education minister for Scotland, said the cap on English students studying in Scotland was “deeply disappointing at a time of crisis”.

English students account for around 10 per cent of the students in Scotland and Mr Lochhead said the devolved nations had previously asked for the “unnecessary” cap to be thrown out.

Kirsty Williams, the Welsh education minister, said English students make a huge contribution to Welsh universities and communities and “disagreed strongly” with the UK government’s approach. “I respect decision-making in and for England, just as I do for the other governments in the UK. Quite simply, I expect the same respect from the minister. I will continue to consider my options,” she said.

Michelle Donelan, universities minister in the Westminster government, said: “I know this is an extremely difficult and anxious time for students, universities and their staff, which is why we have introduced student number controls to stabilise the admissions system and protect higher education from the financial impact of Covid-19.

“We want everyone who achieves their entry requirements to be able to go to university, and the measures seek to ensure students have the widest possible variety and most suitable places to study in the coming academic year, while avoiding harmful over-recruitment among providers which could go against the interests of students and the sector. The controls will make adjustments to take account of offers already accepted before 1 June, and will make best use of taxpayer funding to support students.

“We also understand the importance of supporting our vital public services at this time, which is why the government will allocate an additional 5,000 places for subjects such as nursing and healthcare and another 5,000 for key areas including engineering and sciences at high quality institutions.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

Related articles

Reader's comments (2)

The SNP really don't do irony do they? They've capped Scottish and EU places for years and now start whingeing when England does the same (although much less rigorously given the 6.5% permitted increase)
There also needs to be a cap on capital expenditure at most individual Universities. Total post graduate and undergraduate numbers have passed the point of diminishing returns on investment. We need to work hard to eliminate excess capacity at individual sites by making it easier for students to transfer to similar / different courses at different institutions during clearing in the short term. In the longer term the excess capacity should be removed by cuts at those institutions that have got their subject balance wrong.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Sponsored