Shake-up could cost university places in region

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AN ACADEMIC has warned that Yorkshire could lose university places as a result of a major shake up of higher education which will see institutions have places taken off them by the Government but then be given the chance to win them back.

Huddersfield’s University’s deputy vice chancellor Prof Peter Slee fears that as a whole Yorkshire could lose more places than it gains through the plans to turn higher education into more of a market economy.

Traditionally every university has a cap on the numbers of students it can recruit and it faces fines if this is exceeded.

Next year the system will be overhauled with every higher education provider in England facing a cut in the quota of students they are allowed to take on in order to free up space in the system for two new ways universities can recruit students on top of their capped limit.

From 2012 universities and colleges will be allowed to recruit an unlimited number of the best performing students who achieve two As and a B at A-level or better.

These students will not be included in the universities’ capped limit. The move is expected to give the most popular, prestigious universities the chance to expand.

Universities which charge less than £7,500-a-year for degree courses will also be able to increase numbers outside of their capped limit by bidding for a share of 20,000 places nationally which have been ring fenced for higher education providers that can deliver courses at a lower cost.

Every university is having places withdrawn from it in order to create these 20,000 spaces.

Prof Slee has warned the reforms could leave some universities being squeezed from both sides if they lose their top-performing students to more prestigious rivals and at same time are unable to compete for the 20,000 places as they cannot afford to lower their fees to below £7,500.

Two universities and a university college in Yorkshire have cut fees or improved the financial support they are offering to students in order to bring their average fee down to below £7,500-a-year.

Huddersfield and York St John Universities and Leeds Trinity University College have all submitted bids for student numbers through this system. Since, however, there have been bids for 35,000 places across the country for the 20,000 places available there is no guarantee theirs will be successful.

Prof Slee said: “There is a real danger for Yorkshire that any expansion we see in the system will not be enough to offset the loss of students which every university will experience.

“We are the only large university in Yorkshire which is in a position to bid for a share of these 20,000 places and we might not get the places that we have bid for.

“If some other universities are not able to expand their numbers of AAB students then across Yorkshire there will be fewer university places available which I think would be a shame.

“We hope that we can win back the places we have lost through the ones we are bidding back for but to be honest we do not know yet what will happen.”

The Government’s move to restrict 20,000 places to providers who can deliver courses for an average of £7,500 had been expected to benefit further education colleges which can offer degrees at a lower cost than universities.

But Prof Slee said in many cases further education college degrees were actually delivered as a franchise for a university.

“If a university is losing places because they are being taken away and they are not able to recruit extra students to cover this then I think they are more likely to cut the courses which FE colleges run for them rather than degrees which they deliver themselves.”

Huddersfield is one of 25 higher education providers across the country which altered its “access arrangements” in order to bring its average fee down to below £7,500-a-year.

Prof Slee said this had been achieved by increasing the number of scholarships it was offering.

Huddersfield had set its fees at £7,950 – the lowest of any university in Yorkshire. However the scholarships available are expected to bring the average cost of fees for its students down to £7,270.

York St John University is charging fees of £8,500 from next year but its package of financial support to some students will bring the average cost of its fees down to £7,440. Leeds Trinity is charging £8,000 a year for full degrees but the average cost of its courses will be £7,110 after it cut the cost of foundation degrees to £2,250.

Prof Freda Bridge, Leeds Trinity’s principal and chief executive, said: “It is part of our tradition to recruit students from under-represented groups. In setting these fees and by providing a generous package of financial support targeted at those most in need of it, we will ensure that students with potential can benefit from higher education regardless of their circumstances.”

Last week the Office for Fair Access revealed that 25 higher education providers had cut their planned fees or improved the financial support they would give to poorer students in order to bring their fees down below £7,500. This has resulted in an increase of £37.4m in fee waivers across the 25 higher education providers while their fees have been cut by £16.3m.

john.roberts@ypn.co.uk