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Recruitment caps

June 16, 2011

Today Times Higher Education runs a piece on the likely scenario for restructuring undergraduate recruitment caps. 

The paper, currently under consideration at 10 Downing Street and due out in the next few weeks, is expected to focus on three key policies: removing recruitment caps at universities with A-level entry standards of AAB or above; removing the cap for institutions charging cheaper tuition fees below a fixed level; and a “core and margin” system, where a proportion of total student places is opened to competitive bidding from institutions.

The government believes that these interlinked policies would ease the pressure on public funds by driving down average fees, currently clustered around the £9,000 maximum.

A solution of this kind has been brewing for a while since as a ‘supply-side’ reform it has the merit of creating competition in new ways at different levels:

  • it makes the ‘top tier’ operate differently and perhaps compete more with each other;
  • it squeezes the middle who may have to rethink what they do as they potentially lose their better qualified students to the ‘top tier’;
  •  it rewards those who pitched their fees low;
  • it creates an open pot of places for which any kind of provider can bid (these recent governments do love a good tendering).  

Though THE do not spell it out – what this seems to mean is that in each of these cases the students getting a place will have access to the student financing scheme, and in the case of the tender pot (the “Opportunities Fund” – Willetts) this would probably mean giving additional support to successful private providers (access to maintenance money for their students).

I may return to this in future as the use of A-level qualifications to set offquota places is not without concomitant problems – not all students apply with these and at some institutions the offers made at different courses will fall either side of this marker.

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