Greg Clark, the new Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, has just delivered his first major speech on higher education to the Universities UK Annual Conference at Leeds University. It was a full account of recent successes by the sector and a defence of recent higher education reforms. It did not signal any major change in direction or include big new announcements, but that wasn’t expected.
It did, however, contain one interesting nugget on student numbers. The Minister said that it was likely that 15,000 extra full-time undergraduate places would be taken up by UK / EU students at English universities in 2014/15.
Such growth reflects a successful application round and is to be welcomed (notwithstanding some of the issues lying behind the headline figure, such as the growing disparity between males and females). But 15,000 is, notably, a much lower figure than the Government expected when they announced the removal of student number controls last December.
Then, Ministers said they would fund 30,000 extra places in 2014/15. Now, we know that Whitehall will only need to fund 15,000 extra places.
This comes on the back of a new consultation on student support for EU citizens that says the Government expects only 45,000 extra places to be taken up in 2015/16, compared to 60,000 in the Government’s original plans.
As shown in the last HEPI blue book, this is the opposite of what occurred in Australia when number caps were removed. There, places grew more quickly that was expected. (HEPI’s 2014 study of Australian higher education will culminate in the HEPI annual lecture on 26 November by Professor Paul Wellings of Wollongong University. Contact us to secure a place.)
HEPI will soon be publishing more work about the removal of student number controls in England.
In the meantime, perhaps we should ponder alternative uses of the tens of millions of pounds the Government will save by funding fewer places.