Universities allowed to recruit unlimited top grade students
The government has released details of its proposal to increase the number of students not affected by the cap on university places.
Currently, universities can recruit an unlimited number of students who achieve AAB or above at A Level. This group of teenagers accounted for 85,000 applications last year. However, if the government plan is enacted, from 2013 onwards universities will be able to accept as many students as they want who have ABB grades or above.
It is expected that the first year of relaxed restrictions will allow 35,000 more students, or one third of the total number of applicants, to be considered by universities without fear of using up their quota of places. Such fears have been exacerbated by a recent crackdown on over-recruitment that included £8 million worth of fines in 2011 and a record £6 million fine forLeedsMetropolitanUniversityonly three months ago.
Furthermore, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills has committed itself to providing 5,000 more places to higher education institutions that provide “value for money”; defined as charging less than £7,500 in tuition fees. This proposal is part of the government’s wider plan to give universities incentives to reduce their fees and bring down the average cost of tuition fees which was calculated at £8,300 last year.
Unsurprisingly, the plan to increase the number of students that can be given places without contributing to the overall places cap has come under particular scrutiny. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, warned: “It seems very premature for the government to expand its AAB policy when we have yet to see the impact of it. This looks like triumph of ideology over evidence based policy making”.
It has also been suggested that the new policy will favour the elite Russell Group, to which Durham University recently became a member, and continue the squeeze on newer universities charging similar fees. Statistics for the number of applications to study at Durham in 2012 are already on an upward trend with an 8% increase reported this year compared to the nationwide decrease of 10%.
One Van Mildert second year commented: “I’m glad they’re removing obstacles for bright students but it’s not really going to widen access to university as a whole”.
Conversely, Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: “This is what our university reforms are all about- putting choice and power in the hands of the students. They will gain as universities attract them with a high-quality academic experience”.
It is becoming clear that in a climate of general doom and gloom over the number of students applying for higher education there will be several more policy tweaks to try and reverse this trend.