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Ministers lift cap on number of top students universities can enrol

Ministers lift cap on number of top students universities can enrol

The Guardian World News

Cambridge University is still too often perceived as a place for the already privileged

Cambridge University will be able to enrol more bright students under government plans. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Universities face a fresh bidding war for students next year, after ministers unveiled plans aimed at allowing more bright youngsters to gain their first choice place.

Under reforms revealed on Friday, institutions will be able to recruit as many teenagers as they want with at least an A and two B grades at A-level in 2013.

It is likely to mean that universities are competing for around 120,000 students – one in three of the places available.

This year, institutions were allowed to recruit as many students as they wanted with two As and a B, around 85,000 people in total.

The expansion means it is expected that a further 35,000 youngsters will now join this pool of unrestricted students that institutions can recruit from.

The move comes despite pleas from university leaders, who have warned ministers against moving too fast with the scheme.

The universities minister, David Willetts, said: “A third of all students will now be free of number controls. This is what our university reforms are all about – putting choice and power in the hands of students.

“We are rolling back the controls on places at individual universities that have been a barrier to competition. Students will gain as universities attract them by offering a high-quality academic experience.”

The plans are likely to benefit the country’s top universities, which will be able to expand the numbers of bright students they take.

But other institutions are likely to miss out, if bright undergraduates choose to go to their more prestigious rivals.

Ministers also announced that an extra 5,000 places would be handed to universities and colleges that kept their fees low next year.

These places, known as “core and margin” places, are awarded to institutions that set fees at £7,500 or less.

Some 20,000 core and margin places were awarded this year.

The offer of these places was widely seen as an attempt by ministers to keep fees low after it began to emerge that many universities and colleges would charge at, or close to, the maximum £9,000 from this autumn.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “It seems very premature for the government to extend its AAB policy when we have yet to see the impact of it. This looks like the triumph of ideology over evidence-based policy-making.”

The announcement comes weeks after official figures showed that more than a quarter of universities could see at least a 10%drop in student numbers as a result of government reforms.

Many of those set to be hardest hit by the government’s overhaul of student places are newer institutions that plan to charge more than £7,500 from this autumn.

In total, around three in four universities are likely to have an overall drop in numbers, according to data published by the Higher EducationFunding Council for England.

Statistics published by the council show that 34 institutions (26%) are estimated to have a 10% or greater drop in student numbers this year compared with last year, and in some cases it could be over 12%.

The falls are likely to be caused in part by the government’s core and margin scheme, and the cap on AAB students being lifted this year.


More university places for top A-level grade students

More university places for top A-level grade students

BBC |April 18, 2012

By Sean Coughlan BBC News education correspondent

Many more university places than expected are going to be allocated to top-grade A-level applicants this year.

Universities Minister David Willetts said 85,000 places – rather than the anticipated 65,000 – would go to students with AAB A-level grades.

This represents about one in four entrants – who are now much more likely to get their first choice.

Mr Willetts also admitted that a higher education bill, taking forward a raft of reforms, was now “very unlikely”.

Competing for places

In a speech to a conference of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Mr Willetts set out a progress report on changes to university funding and places.

He signalled afterwards that the White Paper published last summer was looking increasingly unlikely to become legislation.

But many changes – such as promoting more of a market in places – are already going ahead.

This includes removing the limit on places for applicants who get AAB grades or better.

“It is a radical change that has started to liberate the system,” said Mr Willetts.

It means that 20,000 more places than expected will be available to allow universities to expand to take these high-flying students.

However it will also mean that these 20,000 places will not be available to other institutions.

The Russell Group of leading universities says it wants even more places to be made available in this way – and calls for numbers to be relaxed for pupils getting ABB grades.

But there have been warnings that this will put pressure on some middle-ranking universities as students with high grades “trade up”to more prestigious institutions.

There have also been concerns about the instability created by such a shifting market in places.

Along with the 85,000 places now allocated to AAB students, there are a further 20,000 ring-fenced for those with lower tuition fees – leaving a shrinking pool of places for the rest of the university sector.

Mr Willetts is soon expected to announce the next wave of competition for places – and there were calls for him to pause until the effects of the current changes had been assessed.

The reforms will also have an impact on the attitude of students, said Mr Willetts, who predicted that universities would come under much greater consumer scrutiny about the quality of courses and teaching.

The universities minister used the speech to voice his support for Les Ebdon, whose appointment to head the Office for Fair Access (Offa) had been challenged by a select committee.

But Mr Willetts told the conference that there would be “no quotas” and “no social engineering” and that university admissions should be a “meritocracy”.

Nonetheless, Offa will still retain its sanctions over universities which do not meet the demands over “widening participation” in higher education.

International market

He said that £900m was being spent on projects to widen access, such as summer schools, outreach schemes and bursaries.

Mr Willetts also spoke about the economic significance of the burgeoning international opportunities for UK universities.

He quoted Unesco figures that by 2025, the number of global students in higher education will have risen to 260 million from the current 150 million.

As well as individual universities recruiting overseas students- and setting up overseas campuses – he called for a larger scale arrangement between the UK’s university sector and would-be students in some other countries.

But he was warned by Lord Winston that there were concerns that the tightening of visa arrangements could give the impression that UK universities were “closed for business”.

Mr Willetts also suggested that the capacity to set up a new university – both in practice, principles and assessment – could be exported from the UK to other countries.

“We are still only scratching the surface. This is one of Britain’s great growth industries of the future,” he said.

English Universities In ‘Squeezed Middle’ Fear Fall In Student Numbers

English Universities In ‘Squeezed Middle’ Fear Fall In Student Numbers

The Guardian World News |by Jeevan Vasagar

David Cameron speech

David Cameron speaks in 2010 to students at the University of East London, where the steepest drop in student numbers is expected. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

A “squeezed middle” of English universities is expected to suffer sharp falls in student numbers this autumn, according to figures published on Thursday.

The data identifies a band of 34 universities which it says will be hit by the coalition’s reforms because they neither attract the best-performing students (those getting A-level grades of AAB or higher) nor offer the lowest fees of £7,500 or less.

The universities – including Bedfordshire, the University of Central Lancashire, Leeds Met and Sheffield Hallam – are expected to suffer drops of more than 10% in undergraduate student numbers for this autumn. The steepest drop, of 12.6%, is expected to be at the University of East London.

The squeeze comes at both ends under the reforms: top universities will be allowed to recruit unlimited numbers of the highest-performing students, while a total of 20,000 places have also been stripped from higher education institutions in England and auctioned off to universities and colleges charging average fees of £7,500 or less.

The estimated figures are published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), which channels government money for teaching and research to universities.

The accuracy of the estimate depends on students’ choices, and the extent to which the most sought-after universities take advantage of the freedom to recruit more high-performing students.

Oxford and Cambridge have both said that they do not intend to expand their undergraduate intake this autumn or in the near future.

The government estimates that about 65,000 students will achieve grades of AAB or higher in this summer’s exams.

These candidates are being tempted with cut-price deals at some universities. Kent will give £2,000 scholarships to any recruit for 2012 who gains three As in their A-levels, regardless of family income. Bradford is offering £3,500 scholarships to all new recruits who gain AAB or above.

Earlier this month, more than 10,000 undergraduate student places for this autumn were awarded to further education colleges under government reforms that are encouraging the growth of a low-cost alternative to universities.

Professor Michael Farthing, vice-chancellor at the University of Sussex, which is predicted to suffer a 7.2% drop in student numbers compared with last year, said: “There are only so many AAB students to go around and they are likely to be snapped up by a few self-declared ‘elite’ institutions, able to rely on historical brand prestige to attract applications.

“Any university losing AAB students will not be allowed to take on students with different grades, such as two Bs and an A, to take their place. This means that many talented students will be denied places at highly regarded universities.”

Funding levels for universities for the next academic year were also announced. The figures show that funding for teaching has been cut by £1.1bn to £3.2bn, while money for research remains the same as last year at £1.6bn.

The gaps in funding are expected to be made up by the lifting of the cap on tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 a year from this autumn.

Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of Hefce, said there had been a “switch in the balance” of who was paying for higher education now.

He said: “Many students from 2012-13 onwards, as graduates, are going to have to repay a lot of this funding and I don’t think we can underestimate the effect on them and their families.”

The universities minister, David Willetts, said in a statement: “We want a student-focused higher education sector, more choice over where to study and a renewed focus on the quality of the student experience.

“That’s why we’re freeing up centralised number controls, improving information for prospective students and driving a new focus on the academic experience.”

Ten biggest losers (in percentage terms)

University of East London – 12.6%

University of Bedfordshire – 12.4%

Middlesex University – 12.2%

Liverpool Hope University – 12%

University of Northampton – 12.1%

Edge Hill University – 11.9%

University of Central Lancashire – 11.7%

University of Lincoln 11.6%

University of Sunderland – 11.6%

Leeds Metropolitan University – 11.5%

Budget: £100m University Research Pledge For UK

Budget: £100m university research pledge for UK

BBC |March 21, 2012

By Angela Harrison Education correspondent, BBC News

Chancellor George Osborne has announced a £100m fund to boost university research in the UK through private sector involvement.

The government was committing the cash for “investment in major new university research facilities”, he said in his Budget speech.

Few details have been released, but the funding is intended to attract outside investment for universities.

Universities and campaign groups say it will help offset cuts to the sector.

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills said the funds would go to “large capital projects” which bring in “significant private investment”, for example joint research facilities.

A spokeswoman said details would be announced soon.

‘Step in right direction’Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: “Industry and universities have a vital role to play in collaborating to achieve sustained growth in our economy.

“We know from experience that targeted funding can be successful in attracting significant business investment to our university research base. As part of our drive in bringing together the business, charity and university sectors, this new £100m investment could bring in upwards of £200m additional private funding to help stimulate innovation and secure our high-tech future.”

Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, said the investment was helpful – but not enough.

“These things are very welcome but on their own they are only green shoots,” he said.

“In the UK, the government and industry still invest a smaller percentage of our Gross Domestic Product in research and development than our competitor economies and while that remains the case we will not fulfil the Chancellor’s goal of making the UK into Europe’s technology centre.”

Imran Khan, the director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said: “Today’s announcement is the latest in a string of pledges of extra cash for science and engineering, and shows that the government does understand that we cannot have a rebalanced economy without investment in research.

“I suspect the government realises that the multi-billion pound, 50% cut made to research capital in 2010 simply isn’t sustainable. Despite difficult times they are trying to put it right.

“However, simply reversing cuts isn’t going to be a game-changer for the UK. We need to be far more ambitious if we’re serious about having a high-tech future.”

‘Right direction’ In autumn 2010, the chancellor said he was freezing the annual science budget for four years at £4.6bn per year, although when inflation was taken in to account, this amounted to a 10% cut in real terms.

Later, a 40% cut to the sector’s capital expenditure was announced – money spent on building, maintenance or equipment.

The director general of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, Wendy Piatt, said: “The research which takes place in our world-class universities drives long-term and sustainable economic growth. But the first-rate infrastructure needed to facilitate the very best research and teaching cannot be bought on the cheap.

“Today’s Budget announcement … is a step in the right direction, especially following recent cuts to capital spending.

“Let’s not forget that our competitors are injecting vast amounts of cash into their universities, and our leading universities are already under-resourced in comparison with our international competitors.”

Cambridge Protest Planned For Suspended Student

Cambridge protest planned for suspended student

BBC |March 16, 2012

Owen HollandStudents and staff at Cambridge University are to demonstrate against the suspension of a student for his part in a protest last November.

Owen Holland was suspended from the university for two-and-a-half years for reading out a poem during a speech by Universities Minister David Willetts.

The university’s disciplinary authority took the decision after a six-hour hearing on Wednesday.

Supporters of Mr Holland described the sentence as disproportionate.

The protest, against plans to raise student fees, cut short a planned speech by Mr Willetts in one of the university’s lecture halls.

Mr Holland read out a poem which was repeated back by other protesters.

Eventually Mr Willetts left without delivering the speech.

When Mr Holland was first charged with impeding the minister’s freedom of speech, more than 60 other staff and students wrote to the university authorities admitting their role in the protest and demanding that they be be charged with the same offence.

‘Singled out

Cambridge University Students Union has called for the sentence to be quashed.

Liam Burns, President of the National Union of Students, said:“When no laws are broken there is no reason for such a disproportionate punishment.

“It is clear that this decision has unfairly singled out an individual to make an example of.”

Mr Holland has 28 days to appeal.

Salima Mawji, an expert in education law, suggested a legal challenge to the suspension could be made on the grounds that the authorities appeared to have ignored admissions to alleged disciplinary offences by other students.

Ms Mawji asked: “Why was Mr Holland the only member of the student body to be singled out and punished despite open admissions by other students?”

The protest outside the University of Cambridge Old Schools building is due to start at 13:00 GMT on Friday and is expected to include students, staff and lecturers.

Cambridge Student Gets Seven-Term Ban For Poetic Protest At Willetts Speech

Cambridge student gets seven-term ban for poetic protest at Willetts speech

The Guardian World News |by Jeevan Vasagar

David Willetts

Higher education minister David Willetts was told ‘your gods have failed’ in the protest at Cambridge University. Photograph: Anna Gordon for the Guardian

A PhD student at Cambridge University has been suspended until the end of 2014 for his role in a protest against thehigher education minister, David Willetts.

In a ruling condemned as a travesty by fellow students, the English literature student was suspended for seven terms afterreading out a poem that disrupted a speech by the minister.

The student, named by a student newspaper as Owen Holland, read out a poem that included the lines: “You are a man who believes in the market and in the power of competition to drive up quality. But look to the world around you: your gods have failed.”

The minister was forced to abandon the speech on the “Idea of a University” last November, as protesters repeated the lines of the poem in response to the student.

The sentence – known as rusticating – was imposed by the university’s court of discipline, an independent body presided over by a high court judge.

In response, more than 60 academics and students wrote a“Spartacus” letter to the university admitting to their role in the original protest and demanding that they be charged for the same offence.

Rees Arnott-Davies, a student at Corpus Christi college, who was among the protesters, said: “This is out of all proportion. Two and a half years for an entirely legal and peaceful protest is an absolute travesty and makes me ashamed to study at this university. The idea that you can protect freedom of speech by silencing protest is the height of hypocrisy.”

Arnott-Davies said the court had exceeded the punishment requested by the university’s legal counsel, which sought a one-term suspension.

A Cambridge University spokesman said: “The university notes the decision of the court of discipline in its proceedings. By statute, the court of discipline is an independent body, which is empowered to adjudicate when a student is charged with an offence against the discipline of the university by the university advocate. The court may impose a range of sentences as defined by the statute.”

Further education colleges awarded 10,000 degree student places – Education

Further education colleges awarded 10,000 degree student places – Education

The Guardian World News by Jeevan Vasagar 7 March 2012

Newham College

Newham College was among those awarded undergraduate student places. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

More than 10,000 undergraduate student places for this autumn have been awarded to further education colleges under government reforms that are encouraging the growth of a low-cost alternative to traditional universities.

A total of 20,000 places have been stripped from higher education institutions in England and auctioned off to universities and colleges charging average tuition feesof £7,500 or less this year.

About 9,600 have gone to 35 universities, of which the biggest winners were Anglia Ruskin, London Met, Nottingham Trent and Staffordshire. But more than half of the places have gone to further education colleges, including Hartpury College in Gloucester, Newham College, east London, and Newcastle College.

Universities can charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 from this September. The creation of a margin of 20,000 student places open only to cheaper institutions was intended to create pressure to bring fees down.

In December, 24 universities and one FE college brought down their average fees in order to bid for student places from the margin.

Announcing the reforms last year, the universities minister, David Willetts, said there would be “pressure for quality and value for money” on universities.

Nick Davy, higher education policymanager with the Association of Colleges, said: “The quality of college bids through the core and margin system has led to an allocation of around 10,500 additional full-time student numbers for the sector – an increase of 25% on present numbers.”

However, Davy said a number of universities had also withdrawn undergraduate places they had previously extended on a franchise basis to local FE colleges.

He said: “This figure is brought down substantially by the practice of universities withdrawing indirect student numbers from the sector. AoC estimates that the growth in entrant numbers actually is nearer to 7%, a long way from the government’s intention to significantly support degree-level growth in the college sector.

“There needs to be a considerable increase in margin places to achieve the government aim of creating a more cost-effective and accessible HE sector.”

The coalition’s higher education reforms also allow institutions to expand to take on more students who achieve grades AAB or higher at A-level. The government estimates this will cover about 65,000 students in this summer’s exam season. This is expected mainly to benefit elite universities.

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