University student number controls should be lifted, education leaders say

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14:35pm, Mon 17 Aug 2020
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A temporary limit on the number of students universities can recruit should be lifted to allow for greater flexibility around admissions, education leaders have said.

Universities in England are only allowed to recruit 5% more UK students than their targets this year to prevent institutions from over-recruiting to make up for lost revenue as a result of Covid-19.

But Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), said the measure “blocks” students from attending the universities they wish to study at.

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He said: “The student number cap should never have been imposed so, yes, it should certainly be lifted now.

“Some people think that would mean forcing universities to take people they don’t want to but that is not so, autonomy on admissions would still apply.

“Student number caps are never a sensible idea because they block students from attending the institutions they want to and which want to accept them, but they are a terrible idea when everything is up in the air.”

His comments come as former universities minister Chris Skidmore said the temporary student number controls need to be redressed due to “record demand”.

The Conservative MP who held his ministerial role until February this year tweeted: “Student number controls were reintroduced in good faith to help protect the entire HE sector due to uncertainty over uptake of places.

“Now it’s clear that we have record level demand, it would make sense to redress the current SNC-ensuring greater flexibility for universities.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, National Union of Students vice president for higher education, said the controls implemented during the coronavirus pandemic “further reiterate” the “fundamental flaws” in the education system.

She said: “Universities are made to compete for students in order to survive which de-prioritises the needs of students.

“Lifting the measure would not fully redress the situation.

“Instead we need a new funding model for higher education that is focused on collaboration over competition.”

Universities UK said higher education institutions were being as “flexible as possible” in regard to student admissions.

A spokeswoman for the organisation said: “As autonomous institutions, ultimately the decisions about how flexible an institution or particular course can be will be made by the university involved, based on the needs of their students, practicalities such as specialist facilities or availability of placements, and most importantly the safety of students, staff and communities.

“The extension of the Ucas deadline to September 7 allows for greater flexibility, but it is essential that the appeals process and decisions are clarified as soon as possible and we await further news on this.”

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