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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.


Lib Dems set to push for more funds to retain students

Lib Dems set to push for more funds to retain students

The Guardian World News |by Hélène Mulholland

Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes told young people he was ready to push the government for student funding

Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes told young people he was ready to push the government for extra student funding. Photograph: Anna Gordon

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat MP and government advocate for access to education, is preparing to lobby the government for additional money if evidence proves that the decision to withdraw the educational maintenance allowance is having a negative impact.

The move suggests the Lib Dems are concerned at the possible effect on student retention of the government decision to withdraw the weekly allowance of up to £30 for 16- to 19-year-olds at a time of unprecedented youth unemployment.

Hughes revealed his intentions as he and the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, joined the Liberal Democrat candidate for the London mayoralty, Brian Paddick, at an event to court the youth vote. Polls show the Lib Dems’ share of support in the capital ahead of the 3 May election has dropped two percentage points on last month.

Speaking at the event at the Ministry of Sound, which was jointly organised with Bite The Ballot, a grassroots campaign to encourage young people to vote and become politically engaged, Clegg said youth unemployment was“one of the biggest social issues this country faces”. He highlighted the youth contract which will offer young people an opportunity to “earn or learn”.

The trio were challenged about the struggle young people face when they stay in post-16 education. Hughes said that while those who had been promised the EMA at the start of their post-16 education would continue to get it, “the difficulty is for people who haven’t got it to start with”.

The 2010 comprehensive spending review set out plans to abolish the EMA, which provided grants of up to £30 a week to children whose parents earn less than £30,800, on the basis that it was poorly targeted. The move led to an outcry and the appointment of Hughes as advocate for access to education.

Hughes, who is chair of the party’s mayoral election campaign, told the audience that he had asked sixth form colleges and schools to report “how much money they have, how much money they need, and what they say will make the difference in terms of who is staying in college and who is not”.

“We should have that information by this summer, June, then we need to talk to government and say: ‘Look guys, it’s had this effect, for example, we have half as many black women now staying on at college – what are you going to do about it?’” He said he would make sure “the commitment and, if necessary, the finance [will be provided] to make sure we got those people to stay on at college”.

Boris Johnson, the incumbent mayor, is among those who have expressed fears that young Londoners from low-income backgrounds could drop out of education and see their life chances“radically diminished” as a result of a ministers’ decision to replace the £560m EMA budget with £180m for the new 16-19 bursaries.

Clegg said the decision to review the impact was being taken“step by step”. Asked later about Hughes’s plan, Clegg: “You wouldn’t in the normal course of events not track the effect of change. Of course you have to do that.”

He conceded that the new bursaries needed to be “better targeted than before” because the more generously funded EMA scheme was given to those who didn’t necessarily need it.

Clegg showed his support for the Lib Dem London campaign just a day after the latest YouGov poll on Londoners’ voting intentions showed support for the party had dropped by two percentage points to 7% – the same as Paddick’s share of support in the first-preference round of a system conducted under the supplementary vote system. This is lower than the 9.63% Paddick secured when he came third in the 2008 mayoral election, but two points higher than his rating share in a YouGov poll conducted last month.

The figures indicate that the party’s hope that the mayoral election could boost its result in the more low-key London assembly elections taking place at the same time could be thwarted. The Lib Dems have three assembly seats after losing two in 2008, and the indicative support of 11% and 9% for the constituency and list seats respectively suggests the party is set to lose another one.

A YouGov poll for the Sun shows the Liberal Democrats are doing even worse nationally, having been pushed into fourth place by the UK Independence party. The survey puts Labour on 43% support, 11 points ahead of the Tories, with Ukip on 9%, and the Lib Dems on 8%.

A second poll showed Labour extending its lead over the Tories to nine points, while the Liberal Democrats were unchanged on 11%.

Asked about the London polling figures, Clegg dismissed them as“bogus science” and insisted there was still “everything to play for” in a campaign which was “only now coming to life”.

‘Hotels on campus’ as universities build up their image

‘Hotels on campus’ as universities build up their image

BBC |April 4, 2012

By Sean Coughlan BBC News education correspondent

Universities are spending millions on new buildings as they compete to attract students – including campus hotels, an overseas student village and better bedrooms, says a survey.

Building firm Wates says 79% of them have construction plans costing more than £5m scheduled for next year.

Improved facilities for overseas and postgraduate students are planned by two-thirds of universities, it reports.

Ian Vickers of Wates said higher fees meant higher demands from students.

The shake-up in higher education funding means that universities face increasing competition – with the financial viability of degree courses depending more than ever on their ability to recruit students.

Consumer appeal

It means that universities are having to pay more attention than ever to the so-called “student experience”.

And this includes the sleeping experience, with the quality of bedrooms identified as needing to be improved by one university.

The survey suggests that universities are stretching their budgets to construct image-boosting new buildings and to improve the quality of accommodation.

The lucrative overseas students market – where fees can be more than the £9,000 upper level for domestic students – appears to be a particular target.

Among the plans highlighted by Wates were one for an“international feeder college” and a purpose-built “overseas student village”.

A third of universities were considering much bigger plans, such as partnerships to set up science parks or to put a hotel on the campus.

The survey, with 52 responses, allowed the institutions to remain anonymous, but Wates said it was a representative sample of different types of university. There are more than 160 higher education institutions across the UK.

Among the plans was a university which wanted a joint venture which would see it sharing university grounds with a hotel, offices and private housing.

Another had turned down a proposal for a hotel because it would have been at the university entrance and might not have projected the desired image.

Because of the anonymised research, Wates says it is not possible to say whether these are hotels aimed at a university market – such as family visiting students – or whether they are simply commercial ventures making use of a campus or historic setting.

Mr Vickers said that such building plans were taking place despite the tough financial circumstances facing higher education.

“Students are being asked to pay more than ever before for a university degree. That means they expect a quality of experience that reflects the high price they are paying.

“In order to remain competitive, universities are therefore looking to deliver modern facilities that have the ‘wow’ factor while also encouraging more efficient and collaborative use of space.”

Students’ Emails Wrongly Shared In Administrative Error

Students’ emails wrongly shared in administrative error

BBC |March 21, 2012

A government quango has apologised after thousands of students’ email addresses were sent to other customers.

Student Finance England accidentally released the emails of about 8,000 students in what it said was an “administrative error”.

The firm said it had been in touch with all the students involved.

Student Finance England is part of the Student Loans Company, a government-owned organisation set up to provide grants and loans to UK students.

On Monday, the firm sent out an email to about 8,000 students who are due to start university courses this autumn, reminding them to fill in grant application forms.

But the email included the email addresses of all those on the distribution list.

One student affected contacted the BBC News website and said:“This is such a disgusting error in the security of students’ data. They can’t get away with it.”

In a statement, the firm said: “We are sorry that a number of student email addresses have been included in an email which has been sent to other customers.

“The information was sent in error and only included email addresses, no other personal student data was shared.

“We have contacted all customers affected to let them know about this issue.

“The integrity and security of student accounts and the protection of personal information is vital to us, and we apologise to all of the students involved.”

In 2009, the Student Loans Company came under fire after thousands of students did not receive their loans in time.

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