Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Unlimited Recruitment 'Transforms' Landscape

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Unlimited Recruitment 'Transforms' Landscape

Article excerpt

Intake nearly doubled at some English campuses since cap came off in 2012. John Morgan writes

Forget the teaching excellence framework (TEF): the really radical transformation in English higher education is already under way. The lifting of student number controls, begun in 2012 and completed this year, will have a deeper impact on universities than anything in the Green Paper, some believe.

Two examples highlight the extremes of the dramatic shifts in student recruitment set in motion: Aston University has nearly doubled its UK/European Union student acceptance numbers in four years, while London Metropolitan University has seen its numbers halve.

Three out of the five biggest risers in student intake since 2011 are from the Russell Group, while three out of the five biggest fallers are post-92 universities.

To its supporters, the scrapping of number controls creates a system of greater student choice where universities' standards are driven up as they are forced to compete to attract undergraduates. It could even pave the way towards competition for students mid-course, they argue.

However, many see the above interpretations as too simplistic and say that the easing of student number controls was always rigged to favour higher status institutions.

The details above on recruitment rises and falls are calculated by comparing Ucas figures on total acceptances for UK and EU students at English institutions in 2015, published last month, with the equivalent figures from 2011, the last year of rigid student number caps. In 2012, the coalition government introduced the AAB system, allowing universities unlimited recruitment of students with those grades or above, succeeded by ABB the following year. Then, in 2015, student number controls were scrapped entirely. The change was originally announced by George Osborne, the chancellor, in the 2013 Autumn Statement.

Aston University is the biggest riser in terms of UK/EU acceptances (up 79.3 per cent from 1,715 in 2011 to 3,075 in 2015).

Aston is followed in the top five risers since 2011 by University College London (a 57.2 per cent increase), the University of Bristol (up 52.1 per cent), Coventry University (47.1 per cent) and the University of Exeter (43 per cent).

The Conservatives have never stated it publicly in these terms, but perhaps the following might paraphrase their view on one of the rationales behind lifting student number controls: it improves social mobility if more students have the chance to attend higher status institutions.

Russell Group members Bristol and Exeter clearly seized the chance to hoover up AAB/ABB students from other institutions perceived as less prestigious.

But big riser Coventry is a post-92 university that has been building its reputation by making rapid progress up domestic league tables, which are partly based on entry tariffs. In October, Coventry became the first post-92 to feature in the Times Higher Education "Table of Tables", based on an average of placings in the UK's three main newspaper domestic rankings, appearing in 23rd place.

Mid-course competition

An Aston spokesman highlighted the university's graduate employability record, along with its placement years in business and the professions, in explaining its attractiveness to students. …

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