11 April 2012

Ministers' indecision on student numbers risks less student choice and high quality student experience

The university think-tank million+ has today criticised the Government’s continued indecision over plans for a market in student numbers in 2013-14. Professor Michael Driscoll, interim Chair of million+ and Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University, has called on Ministers to make clear that there will be no extension of the student numbers market and to instead prioritise student choice and a quality student experience.

Professor Driscoll said: “The Government should abandon any idea that an extension of the market in student numbers would be good for students. In fact exactly the opposite is the case and to extend the market in 2013-14 will only limit student choice bearing in mind that universities which are tried and tested providers would lose even more student places than this year.

“Ministers have had months to decide whether to extend the market but have singularly failed to make any decision. Many university boards and governors have now agreed fee levels for 2013-14 so that prospectuses are ready for students in the summer term. Ministers should now put their plans to expand the market on hold and avoid a repeat of last year’s debacle when some universities had to amend fees. If the Government really does believe in student choice they should allow students to get on with it without imposing further central constraints on universities in terms of fees or numbers.”

Notes to editors:

  1. The grant letter from BIS Ministers to Hefce was issued on 25 January 2012 and had been expected to set-out plans for the student numbers market in 2013-14. Instead the announcement was delayed and Ministers committed to writing separately to set out their proposals for contestable places for 2013-14. This further letter is still to be sent and as a result, many university boards and governors have already had to agree fees for 2013-14 in order to begin preparing for the submission of Access Agreements to Offa and making plans for their 2013-14 student recruitment marketing campaigns. A pause would therefore have the added advantage of avoiding a repeat of 2012 when fee and Access Agreements were resubmitted as a result of the late announcement about student number controls. It would also remove some of the uncertainty which is undermining strategic planning in the sector.
  2. The recurrent grants and student number controls for 2012-13, announced by HEFCE on Thursday 29 March 2012, (‘HEFCE 2012/08’ www.hefce.ac.uk) showed that the majority of universities would lose places in 2012-13 as a result of the introduction of the ‘core and margin’ student numbers market. 31 universities will lose 10% or more of their student places for 2012-13 (compared to 2011-12).
  3. Further Education Colleges have received 10,354 funded student places under the ‘margin’ in 2012-13. Of these, approx. half will go to 65 FECs which have been allocated direct HEFCE funded numbers for the first time. HEFCE cannot guarantee the level of qualifications on offer at these colleges and the result may be that rather than funding full-honours courses, places will be funded for Foundation Degree and Access courses, HNDs/ HNCs and top-up degree courses. Funding which is more likely to have provided students with the choice of studying for a full honours degree risks being transferred into ‘sub-degree’ provision.