Some universities could still fail to fill places, v-c warns

The upturn in students accepted into university this year could disguise big falls at some institutions, a vice-chancellor has warned.

August 15, 2013

Don Nutbeam, head of the University of Southampton, said that following a “very difficult” year for recruitment in 2012-13, his institution’s undergraduate intake could be up by 15 to 20 per cent this year.

Given that acceptances were up 9 per cent overall, this could mean a fall for some universities, he said.

Last year, Southampton’s undergraduate recruitment fell short by a reported 600 students.

“Last year was a very difficult year for us,” Professor Nutbeam said.

“Along with a number of Russell Group universities we were caught out by the miscalculation of the government of the number of students who get A at A-level,” he said.

This year, universities are allowed to recruit an unlimited number of students who achieve grades ABB at A-level. Last year the grades required were AAB.

This change, combined with more “flexibility” around student number controls, had given Southampton “more confidence” to recruit this year, he explained.

“We have made more offers, [and] done it earlier,” he said, and added that the university had done much more marketing than last year as well.

Asked whether the university had dropped its required grades to accept more students, he said: “We held our ground pretty well.”

Southamptonwas looking to “keep on recruiting” ABB students through clearing in subjects where it had the physical capacity to take them.

Clearing and adjustment – where students who got better grades than they expected can “trade up” to a more selective university – were now “part of the landscape” for institutions.

He rejected a “snobbish” view of clearing he claimed was held by some universities.

Asked whether this year heralded stability in student numbers for universities, he said: “I don’t think it’s going to settle down. I think we have a really dynamic market.”

Meanwhile, Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said it was hoped that this year’s ABB threshold would “reduce some of the unintended consequences from last year when students who wanted to attend a leading university and had the right qualifications were not able to - even when those universities wanted to accept them”.

She added: “One consequence of the uncertainties in the new system is that universities may have more places to offer through clearing to well-qualified students who have narrowly missed out on their first choice.

“Ucas and our universities have been preparing for this carefully and are on hand to help students who have missed their offer. There may also be places available through the Ucas Adjustment process for those who have done better than expected. We will be monitoring this carefully over the coming days and weeks.”

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