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Will courses and providers close if we cap private school entry rates?

A splashy response to a splashy manifesto pledge on private school university recruitment could change the face of the sector. Or, it might not. David Kernohan has graphs.
This article is more than 3 years old

David Kernohan is Acting Editor of Wonkhe

So the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) isn’t keen on Labour’s conference commitment to cap university places. Who would have expected that?

Reports are full of dire predictions – universities could be forced to shrink departments if the cap goes ahead. I’m not sure whether I’m in danger of blowing minds by pointing out how many more universities could be forced to shrink departments by the desired functionality of the market in university places. Not many private school headteachers have been carrying banners on marches against that, if I’m honest.

But here we are – the question on everyone’s lips is now “which courses and universities”. Sadly, there’s not a data set that lets me look at courses within providers – not even the strange stuff like the TEF data and the Unistats data has this particular split. But what I can offer you, with thanks to HESA and UCAS, is a look at an institutional level.

Firstly, a word of warning. The “state school marker” is not a brilliant quality data split at the moment. For HESA, a “state school” is “all schools and colleges (including further education colleges and publicly funded HE providers) that are not classed as independent”, For the institutional numbers, I’ve assumed that everything not state is private – this is a big leap of faith.

By provider

[Full screen]

You all guessed “Russell Group” before you saw the plot, right? I’ve shown the overall recruitment of each provider as the size of the dot, so the ones that should be more concerned are the small and specialist providers. There’s a couple taking the majority of a very small intake from non-state sources – it’s these that are probably at most risk from any changes. Oxford tops the larger provider list, Oxford Brookes tops the post-92 list. Nottingham Trent and the University of the Arts straddle Labour’s 7% line – assuming a cap is applied institutionally everyone above there could lose students.

But it may not have escaped that your attention that most of the providers with high percentages of private school entrants are also highly selective. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of applications going in, but many will not be accepted. So perhaps the real pain will be felt by those “insurance choice” providers where those young people who don’t get a place end up. Or indeed, maybe the rising tide of 18 year olds after the years of demographic drought will lift everyone.

Basically what I am saying is there are too many other things going on to make even a reasonable guess as to what might happen. But most of the concern has been raised about subject groups.

By subject

[Full screen]

We shift here to UCAS data on acceptances by subject, a different measure entirely. UCAS also have a range of possible “applying centres” which makes me more confident that the students I’m flagging as private are indeed from private schools.

Most of the concern has been about modern languages – and you can see from the first graph that languages, medicine (though this has made strides in admitting a greater percentage from state schools in recent years) and combined studies are more likely than others to include a high proportion of private students.

I don’t often talk about combined studies but I do so here for a reason – percentages are not the whole story. On the second tab I plot the number of private school acceptances against the number of all acceptances, which makes the issue a little clearer. Some subject areas are just small – languages and combined studies included. Languages feel like, in a post-Brexit world, the kind of thing a sensible government would be investing in – and such investment would include improving the number of state school entries to such courses at university. This is a long term thing, but I’m sure that this is a goal.

Labour’s policy may itself be based on contested statistics, but chucking more contested statistics into the story isn’t going to improve the quality of debate. This piece will have to do until we get provider by subject data from an obliging sector agency.


2 responses to “Will courses and providers close if we cap private school entry rates?

  1. It would be interesting on your Tab 2 sheet to suerimpose a line showing the % of students at private schools. If we go with the widely quoted 6% figure, or Labour’s 7%, then anything to the right of the line would show subjects where private pupils are ‘over represented’ and anything to the left where they are ‘under represented’. There aren’t many subjects that would be on the left…

  2. Interesting but it’s not going to happen. A Labour Party conference resolution is what it says on the tin but it’s not a manifesto commitment – end of.

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