Today’s announcement on the extension of unlimited recruitment, which began with an AAB threshold for 2012-13, comes after lengthy wrangles between the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills over the cost of the measure.
The extension to ABB means that compared to 2012-13 “a further 35,000 students will now join the pool of unrestricted students which universities can recruit from”, the announcement said. “In total 120,000 places, one in three, are expected to be freed up.”
The decision means that many selective universities will effectively be outside the student numbers cap, allowing them to expand if they wish. But the competition between universities to attract these high-achieving students will be fierce - meaning some will lose out.
On the margin system, the announcement said that in 2013-14 "a further 5,000 places will be allocated through a competitive core and margin to universities and colleges offering good quality and value for money".
For 2012-13, the margin system saw 20,000 places deducted from institutions and allocated to universities and further education colleges charging annual tuition fees of below £7,500.
In 2013-14, the margin will be repeated for a fresh round of student places and the number of places redistributed to lower-cost institutions will rise to 25,000.
Most will be reallocated to institutions charging less than £7,500 as is the case this year, but a “sizable minority” will go to those charging between £7,500 and £8,250, a BIS spokesman said.
Vince Cable, the business secretary, said:"These changes will enable more high achieving students to get into their first choice university. At the same time we are also increasing the number of places on courses which offer value for money, backing those universities and colleges which have focused on keeping their costs to students down."
David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said: "A third of all students will now be free of number controls. This is what our university reforms are all about - putting choice and power in the hands of students. We are rolling back the controls on places at individual universities that have been a barrier to competition. Students will gain as universities attract them by offering a high-quality academic experience."