Potential implications of the changes to student number controls in England for 2012 entry

There have been many changes to student funding in England for 2012 entry over recent years. One of the aims of this is to encourage greater dynamism and competition in the higher education sector which has led HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) to make significant changes to the way student numbers are controlled.

From September 2012, universities will be able to recruit an unlimited number of students with grades AAB or above at A-level or in equivalent qualifications.

What does this mean for universities?

For universities at the top end of the league tables, these changes mean that they now have a lot more flexibility to accept very highly qualified candidates whom they may previously have had no choice but to reject.

In recent years, we have seen students with AAA at A level entering clearing because they failed to achieve the desired A*/A in a particular subject. However, appropriate options in clearing for these students were very slim and students were forced to either take a year out (unpopular in 2011 due to the tuition fee rise) or accept a place at a university that was much lower ranked than the one they originally planned to attend.

For middle or lower ranked universities, increased flexibility at the top end of the spectrum will mean that applicants who exceed a low offer may be tempted to ‘trade up’ elsewhere via the UCAS adjustment option if they find themselves with AAB+ on 16th August, meaning that universities will need to focus on retention as well as recruitment during this period.

This year we expect to see high ranking Russell Group universities encouraging AAB+ students to use the UCAS adjustment option to transfer. Students are eligible if they exceed the terms of their firm offer and only have five days from the release of results to move via adjustment.

What students need to remember is that they are committing to a £50,000+ purchase – it needs to be very carefully considered. Over the last year, students will have researched their chosen university in detail. They will have made friends on TSR, may have already had accommodation offers and will have prepared themselves to move to their chosen institution in a few weeks.

To throw all of that away to go to a slightly higher ranked university may end up having unforeseen or potentially disastrous consequences.