Thousands of extra university places to be offered

In an article in The Times, 14/01/13, Greg Hurst reports on the announcement that Universities are to be allowed to offer thousands of extra places in the autumn to offset large numbers of unfilled places last year. Vice-chancellors will be given approval today to recruit up to 3 per cent more undergraduate places than previously allowed and departments that exceed their cap will also face less onerous fines.

The changes, set out in the annual grant letter sent by ministers to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, are likely to be welcomed by universities. Many were hit heavily by the “big bang” impact of the Government’s higher education reforms last autumn and were left with hundreds of unfilled places on courses.

These were caused by the trebling of tuition fees to £9,000 and unintended consequences of axing recruitment controls on high achieving students with A-level grades of AAB or better. Far fewer teenagers achieved these grades than expected, leaving universities unable to compensate for cuts in core student number controls.

Overall, 51,000 fewer undergraduates started university last autumn, down 13 per cent on 2011. At least 11,500 vacancies were at Russell Group universities, which were unable to recruit enough students with grades of AAB or above yet were barred from accepting applicants with marginally lower grades, as they have in previous years.

Today’s changes signal the Government’s determination to avoid any repeat and to prove its university reforms are allowing more qualified applicants to achieve a place at their preferred university, as intended. This year universities can recruit unlimited numbers of students with grades of ABB or higher.

In addition to allowing universities to exceed recruitment caps by 3 per cent and setting nominal rather than punitive fines, ministers will announce that universities will not lose more places under a controversial policy to encourage low cost degrees.

Further liberalisation of student number controls is likely next year, either allowing unlimited recruitment of applicants with grades of BBB or expanding the 3 per cent margin or both.

By Greg Hurst, The Times. Click here to read the article © The Times.