Abolition of student numbers cap: the sector responds

Yesterday’s announcement that student number controls are to be abolished has attracted comment from all quarters. Here is a round-up of responses:

December 6, 2013

Steve Egan, interim chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said that the removal of the student numbers cap “will give more people the opportunity to benefit from higher education” and welcomed “additional support for STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] subjects, which will help universities and colleges to capitalise on the upturn in demand in these areas and support economic growth”. He added that Hefce “looks forward to further details from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in due course”.

Les Ebdon, director of fair access at the Office for Fair Access, said that the removal of the cap on student places was “excellent news for fair access” as it “means that there will be greater opportunity for everyone who has the talent and drive to succeed in higher education to do so, at the university or college that is right for them, whatever their background”.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, welcomed the government’s commitment to expanding student numbers but called for clarification. “We will need to understand how this is sustainable in the long-term, given that this policy is being funded in coming years by the asset sales. We also need clearer information on future cuts to the [Department for Business, Innovation and Skills] budget,” she said.

Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, argued that “quality higher education should be prioritised over quantity” and expressed concern “that the government has chosen to put additional taxpayers’ money into growing student numbers so substantially”. Dr Piatt welcomed the additional STEM funding but cautioned that “it is important that this money is for investment in existing STEM places and not simply new provision”. 

Michael Gunn, chair of million+, welcomed the “government’s commitment to mass higher education through the funding of additional student numbers”, noting that “the decision to reinvest future proceeds from the sale of the student loan book in higher education is important and one for which million+ has long made the case”.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said that while the ATL supports removing the cap on student numbers “we suspect that hard-pressed young people will be asked to pay even more for their higher education” as “the Chancellor has not said how this will be funded, other than by an initial one-off sale of the student loan book”.

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, welcomed the proposal to remove student number caps and pledged to work “to ensure that the importance of higher education delivered in further education colleges is increasingly acknowledged”.

David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Learning and Education, praised the expansion of higher education places, but cautioned that “it would be unfortunate if universities responded simply by increasing full-time courses for young people”. The move “presents a potential opportunity to incentivise the supply of, and demand for, flexible and creative ways to participate in higher education, which need to reflect curriculum diversity and labour market need”, he added.

Libby Hackett, chief executive of University Alliance, said that “extra [higher education] places will ensure the UK can meet the need for additional highly skilled graduates helping us meet the demands of the future economy”.

Anthony McClaran, chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, said that the announcement “presents universities and colleges with an unprecedented opportunity”. He added that he was pleased that the government had made it clear that “providers cannot expand at the expense of quality”.

Julie Mercer, head of education consulting at Deloitte, said that “we expect that many institutions will take full advantage of the greater freedom they have over admissions”. The changes would “encourage further competition in a sector that is already increasingly market orientated” and mean that “universities will have to deepen their efforts to compete using the student experience, quality of their teaching and research reputation as differentiators”.

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said he hoped that the removal of the control of student places night “incentivise the high-quality but cost-effective employer-responsive [higher education] provision in colleges”.

Paul Hardaker, chief executive of Institute of Physics, welcomed new investment in science and technology, including news of the new Higgs Centre and £0 million for the development of quantum technologies. Professor Hardaker added that “to hear the chancellor emphasise his own conviction for science, and the contribution it makes to the UK, while also guaranteeing continued support for STEM at university is very encouraging”.

Lesley Yellowlees, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, praised Osborne’s support for science, but warned against any future cuts to the ring-fenced science budget.  She said that the RSC was “very pleased to hear that there will be a Science and Innovation Strategy for the 2014 Autumn Statement”, which “is in line with the RSC’s call for a long-term vision for science”.

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