HEPI is today launching a short paper, Why the OBR’s forecasts on students must improve, that questions the Office for Budget Responsibility’s predictions of future student numbers. These have led to the removal of over 100,000 students from the official forecasts for the next few years.

Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

Since March 2016, the Office for Budget Responsibility have removed tens of thousands of students from their forecasts. At last week’s Budget, they produced new numbers suggesting the UK is going to have over 100,000 fewer highly-skilled people over the next few years than they previously predicted.

The OBR’s forecasts for students have bounced around like a yo-yo for years. Their numbers manage the rare feat of being both deeply unsophisticated and incredibly sensitive at the same time.

No one should plan for the future on the basis of the OBR’s projections. They are radically different from the projections of organisations that have considered the issue in more depth. Yet the Treasury is duty bound to listen because the OBR’s data feeds into the estimates of the country’s future borrowing.

If our leading independent economic forecaster needs to predict the future size of our higher education sector, it should talk to universities, young people and employers about likely future demand and then do some proper economic modelling. Their current strategy, which looks at population size and whatever the latest statement from UCAS says, is little better than a scrawl on the back of a fag packet.