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HE participation increases by 4%

Official statistics released today show an increased rate of participation in higher education. The provisional Higher Education Initial Participation Rate (HEIPR) estimate was 47%, up from 43% in 2012/13.

Report: Are we ready for the end of student number controls?

Based on new research, Wonkhe has published a report with Capita that assess the sector’s preparedness for the removal of student number controls and the coming changes to universities and the market that are expected to follow.

Contemplating a Brexit for UK HE

Getting ahead of the EU referendum debates to come, Emran Mian picks apart four main arguments from the HE sector’s campaign to stay in the EU.

The downfall of foundation degrees?

What ever happened to foundation degrees? Ben Verinder dusts down the current policy and communications context for the oft-forgotten qualification.

SNC research: your help needed

Wonkhe and higher education consultants from Capita are undertaking a short research study to investigate higher education institutions’ preparedness for the abolition of student number controls (SNCs) from 2015/16. Your help is needed with a new survey for the research.

Record highs for university applications

Almost 600,000 students applied to university in 2015, a 2 per cent increase on the year before. More young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are applying to higher education but there are less applications from older age groups and the gap between men and women applying to university continues to rise.

Part-time student numbers plummet

As HESA release its data from the 2013/14 academic year, part time students have been shown to drop significantly and the proportion of graduates receiving first and second class degrees have increased substantially. Emily Lupton rounds up the latest data.

Record highs entering HE but gender gap widens

Today UCAS released their End of Cycle Report for 2014 and this year, for the first time ever, over half a million students entered higher education. More students are entering higher education from disadvantaged backgrounds and closing the class gap but simultaneously, the gap between men and women entering higher education is getting wider.

The strange death of student number controls

In December 2013 in his Annual Autumn Statement the UK Chancellor George Osbourne announced the end of the Student Number Control (SNC) regime for English higher education institutions, thereby removing the cap on places that had been in place since 2009. But how and why did we get here? Was this the Government’s plan all along? Colin McCaig builds on his recent research to take us on a journey of paradoxical adventures in higher education market making.

Planning for an uncapped future

In December 2013 the Chancellor of the Exchequer blindsided sector pundits with the announcement that the cap on student numbers would be lifted from 2015. Aside from the flurry of press releases and formal responses, analysis of the implications of his announcement for the future shape and size of the sector has only begun to take shape. In this piece, Debbie McVitty maps out the possible scenarios that may emerge as institutions respond to the new policy and plan for their uncapped future.

Expanding the debate

Cheered on by the right-wing press, it is a widely-held belief that there are “too many graduates”. So what does HE expansion look like in that context and what form should it take? Not pulling the ladder up, but moving and positioning it, ensuring that the expansion of the future offers transformation and returns appropriate to the age, not build on outdated ideas and prejudices. Jim Dickinson reflects on the wider debate and the ideologies and politics that drive it.

Learning to love the student loan book

There are two ways to argue for more student places in higher education. The first is easy, just remove the word ‘higher’. So the question is: shall we have some more education? The second is harder – we have to explain why the cost-benefit ratio for more public spending on higher education is greater than competing spending pressures. While higher education detractors from both pick over the government’s recent move to expand higher education, Emran Mian attempts to reframe the debate.

Placing Borrowing at the Heart of the System

A few days after the Autumn Statement, Martin McQuillan considers the Osborne plan to expand student numbers based on questionable finances that the IFS have labelled ‘economic nonsense’ and have slowly started to unravel. This short-termist policy may have big implications in years to come as BIS will have to make up any further shortfall in the HE budget – a budget already under extreme pressure. With so many risks ahead, the HE sector needs to take a long and detailed look at this scheme.

A statement that we didn’t expect?

Like everyone else I thought this year’s Autumn Statement was going to focus on the cost of living, energy and fuel prices. For all I know it might have done but I haven’t yet got past the announcement of 30,000 extra university places next year and the abolition of all number controls in 2015-16. That on top of 20,000 new high level apprenticeships and money for new science facilities across the UK. Andy Westwood takes an early look at the implications of the Autumn Statement.

Gearing up for Clearing

We are now in the final stages of preparing for Clearing. This post is about a macro-level question: will we all get enough students to meet our budgets whilst staying below our student number control limits? The answer of course is no: but not in a very interesting way.

There may be trouble ahead

Ministers have now made up their minds on student number controls for 2013 opting for an increase in contestable places with a shift from AAB to ABB and equivalents – further opening up the market at the top end. Core and margin will reduce significantly with just 5,000 places top sliced and opened up for lower cost bids but with some flexibilities for higher cost subjects and institutions. So the pace of reform continues as do the central themes of competition, diversity and student choice dictating the success and focus of universities.

An innovation and efficiencies pot?

The Government doesn’t quite know what it wants to do with the core and margin policy next year. At the moment their instinct is to run it again on more or less the same terms. Ministers don’t see either AAB or core and margin as permanent features of the system but they are mightily constrained by the short and longer term costs of the student loan book. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that the places top sliced and allocated through the core and margin will definitely be filled – UCAS application data shows that the biggest falls have been from older population groups and those perhaps already in work – both more common in the FE sector that has won most of the places.

Highly provisional provision

Reading the HEFCE grant tables for 2012/2013 is like reading the racing form guide at the back of the Daily Mail. You know that most of what you are seeing is based on extrapolation and guesswork, and you feel fairly dirty and ashamed whilst doing so.

Strategies for student number control

University’s have been faced with a very difficult choice; to choose the high-fee or low-fee route without any clear knowledge of the consequences and much uncertainty about the final regulatory framework. If you look at the relatively small group of HE institutions that have won places in the core/margin allocation, it is clear that most (although not all) of them are relatively unpretentious new universities. On the other hand there are plenty of similar institutions which have set higher fees and did not win any margin numbers. This is an attempt to model the different student number control strategies that are in play and look at the decisions that are currently being in taken because it has never been more important to have a viable strategy for the future.

MarginCore – the binary divide

Margin places have been allocated to institutions based on on “criteria of quality, demand and cost – only those institutions with average tuition fees in 2012-13 of £7,500 or less (net of fee waivers) were eligible to bid. HEFCE received bids from 203 institutions for 36,000 places. Final allocations were made on a pro rata basis” (the “pro-rata” being that everyone’s allocation was reduced to meet the total fit below the 20,000 places HEFCE could allocate.)

Interesting questions raised by OU’s 5k fees

Yesterday, The Open University announced plans to charge £5000 fees. A THE story claims that it puts OU in ‘pole position’ to snap up the 20,000 places that are being made contestably available for institutions charging less than £7,500. But these 20,000 places are for full time undergraduate students – currently all of OU’s students are counted as part-time, even if they are studying at a rate of 1FTE.

Where things get complicated are with OU-validated degrees in further education colleges. By putting these 20,000 places aside for low-cost courses, it is the intention of BIS to expand provision in FECs – either validated through a body like OU, or even funded directly. What no one knows for sure is the true extent of the demand for these courses. It must be remembered that these 20,000 places are just theoretical lines on a spreadsheet – they will not necessarily become students unless there is sufficient demand for the low-cost courses in the mix.

The AAB Opportunity: Anti-competitive?

I’m way of my depth here, but I was wondering how “average qualification on entry” data relates to some of the other aspects that the amazing UniStats data let me look at. You’ll remember earlier this week I examined the numbers of entrants with 340 points across various subjects, institutions and groupings. This time, I’m going to try to work in similar ways as prospective students might in choosing the “best” place to study (and this excuses my #statsfail I guess too…)

Just to give us a pool we can get our heads round, I decided to look at Social Sciences subjects only (Groups L and P in the JACS coding, so stuff like Economics, Politics, Sociology, Social Policy, Social Work, Anthropology, Social Geography, Media Studies, Publishing, Journalism). Social Sciences are interesting because they are mostly difficult to link to a specific job, but together constitute our understanding of the underpinning structures of western civilisation, and offer us ideas of what to do when it breaks.

AAB or AARGH? A schoolboy funding error in the HE White Paper

Okay, so much in the White Paper to process, probably the focus of many posts to come, but here’s the glaring issue for me. Paragraph 4.19: “We propose to allow unrestrained recruitment of high achieving students, scoring the equivalent of AAB or above at A-Level. Core allocations [I assume this means allocated student numbers] for all… read more