On A Level results day, Wonkhe’s deputy editor David Morris visits UCAS to get under the skin of the sector’s biggest days in the calendar, and another milestone in the rapidly changing HE market.
What ever happened to foundation degrees? Ben Verinder dusts down the current policy and communications context for the oft-forgotten qualification.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This morning David Willetts took the airwaves to float the idea of ‘off-quota’ places at university. Not a new idea by any means, but an interesting indication of the direction of travel for the HE White Paper which most now expect in the first half of June. On the one hand, there is a sound political argument for leaking out policy initiatives in this way; it can have the effect of softening up the ground for when the big one drops later on.
But David Willetts has underestimated the toxicity of a policy like this which touches a very raw nerve indeed. Still wounded by the fees and funding settlement, this policy will feel like a kick in the teeth to those still clinging on to the idea that access to HE should never depend on the ability to pay. The ‘free at the point of use’ principle, still hanging on by its finger-nails, ensured that there was always going to be the greatest strength of feeling against the deep cuts to the teaching grant. The ensuing high fees for many felt like the sad, but necessary consequence of this – softened by continued commitment not to charge up-front fees.
So, the hints coming out of the HEFCE annual conference regarding university funding were, firstly, the imminent appearance of the much delayed White Paper, and, secondly, further tweaks to the Willetts-Browne funding model to avoid the now universal embarrassment that this model costs substantially more than the current one.
What we seem to be blindly heading towards is something called a core/margin model, and that I’m going to call MarginCore. This should come as no surprise to readers of my blog, as we called it back in December. We also said it wouldn’t be a very good idea.