Student places plans revealed by Hefce

Details have been released about proposals to allow universities in England to win more undergraduate places if they can show they are recruiting strongly.

May 3, 2013

A consultation released by the Higher Education Funding Council for England today sets out the mechanism by which market-like “dynamism” will be injected into the system from 2014-15.

Student number controls: Consultation on arrangements for 2014-15 onwards calls for feedback from the sector on the proposals, which were set out by David Willetts, the universities and science minister, in a speech last month.

It explains that if a university recruits above its allocation of undergraduate places, but within what Hefce calls a “flexibility range”, its number control the next year will increase.

Yet if it exceeds this limit it will have its grant cut – or it can choose to “offset” this by under-recruiting the next year and escaping a fine.

“If it does not do so, we will apply a further grant reduction to reflect the additional student support costs that the institution is incurring as these students continue their studies,” the consultation warns.

On the other hand, if an institution recruits below its allocation of places but still manages to stay within the flexibility range, it will be unaffected the next year.

Drop below this range, however, and a university’s student number control will be cut.

Despite this, the consultation recognises “that there may be occasions where factors influence recruitment at an institution in one specific year, causing recruitment to fall to a level beneath the bottom of the flexibility range” and so proposes what it calls an “opportunity for recovery”.

The following year such an institution’s flexibility range will grow, so that universities have a better chance to claw back their numbers.

“We are hopeful that the longer-term flexibility mechanism that we propose, while meeting the government aims of ensuring dynamism in the student number control mechanism, will support institutions by removing perverse incentives to recruit below their allocation, and allow growth and expansion in places where student demand is higher,” the consultation says.

The system will be separate from the ability of universities to recruit as many students as they wish with A-level grades of ABB and above. The consultation also puts forward proposals for expanding the number of qualifications viewed as equivalent to A levels.

Responses are required online by 28 June.

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