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HEPI publishes ‘A guide to the removal of student number controls’

  • 18 September 2014

HEPI publishes A guide to the removal of student number controls 

The latest report from the Higher Education Policy Institute, A guide to the removal of student number controls by Nick Hillman, is published on 18th September 2014.

In December last year, universities were caught by surprise when George Osborne announced student number controls would end in England. This new HEPI blue book:

1. considers why the announcement was made and whether it will happen as planned;

2. explains what the changes could mean for the sector and individual institutions; and

3. looks at the budget pressures that mean spending on each student is likely to fall.

Nick Hillman said:

‘The decision to remove student number controls is a vote of confidence in universities and young people. If successfully implemented, it could transform lives, improve social mobility and raise economic performance. But the policy was sprung on universities, with little attention to precedents at home or abroad.

‘If it does happen – and Labour have suggested it may not – then moving from here to there will be bumpy. Although no one can predict the future with absolute certainty, our evidence also suggests there could be significant new opportunities for EU recruitment, pathway courses and alternative providers.

‘One critical outstanding question is how the policy is to be paid for. The Government has now ruled out a quick sale of old student loans, which was the original source of funding. It is hard to square current forecasts on the future number of students with the expected cuts to public expenditure. Spending on each student may come under severe strain whoever wins the next election.’



Notes for Editors

1. The full report shows:

  • There were three key reasons why the Coalition adopted the policy: demand for higher education will remain strong; more higher-level skills can raise economic performance; and education is likely to feature in the next general election.
  • The Government predicts there will eventually be 60,000 extra entrants each year, which would mean an increase of around 20 per cent in the number of UK/EU full-time undergraduates.
  • Although the reduction in the number of 18-year olds will affect demand, there are grounds for thinking all the places could be filled in time. However, individual higher education institutions are likely to respond in different ways and will fare differently once the numbers cap is removed.
  • The Government plans to maintain the quality of provision once the numbers control is removed. But possible mechanisms for ensuring this – such as a minimum academic entry bar, the monitoring of non-continuation rates and graduate outcome measures – are difficult to implement, so ad hoc arrangements may prove necessary.
  • Although the Government is planning to include alternative providers in the removal of student number controls from 2015/16, it remains unclear how similar the rules will be to those for HEFCE-funded providers.
  • A part of the funding pressure arises from the inclusion of EU residents in the removal of student number controls. So it is surprising that the decision to remove student number controls has not been covered in the official review of EU competences, nor does it appear to have featured in the internal Whitehall debates about net inward migration.

2. Nick Hillman became the Director of HEPI in January 2014. His previous HEPI pamphlets have covered the need for higher education legislation and a comparison of student loans in England and Australia.

3. In August 2014, HEPI published an account of Australia’s shift to a demand-driven system by Andrew Norton, which is part of a year-long study of Australia that has informed this new publication. On 26th November 2014, Professor Paul Wellings, the former Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University and current Vice-Chancellor of Wollongong University, will deliver HEPI’s Annual Lecture at Australia House in central London. For further details on the HEPI Annual Lecture please contact [email protected].

4. HEPI’s mission is to ensure higher education policy-making is better informed by evidence and research. We are UK-wide, independent and non-partisan. In the 2014 Prospect Think Tank Magazine of the Year Awards, HEPI won the ‘One to Watch’ category.

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