End of student cap was ‘sprung on universities’, ex-special adviser admits

Sep 19, 2014 by

Nick Hillman says government plans for a free-for-all ignored issues of university entry standards and how to fund enrolment

The government’s plans for a free-for-all in university undergraduate numbers in England are “fuzzy” and were published without considering potential pitfalls, according to the special adviser to the universities minister at the time the policy was launched.

Nick Hillman, who was special adviser to David Willetts as minister for universities when the lifting of the cap on student numbers from 2015 was launched last year, says in a new report “the policy was announced without much thought being given to a number of tricky issues, particularly on funding.”

Hillman, head of the independent Higher Education Policy Institute thinktank, argues that although allowing unlimited recruitment of undergraduates by universities is likely to have lasting benefits, the government has not tackled a string of potential problems such as whether universities should have minimum entry standards, or outlined how it plans to fund an increase in enrolment.

“The decision to remove student number controls is a vote of confidence in universities and young people. If successfully implemented, it could transform lives, improve social mobility and raise economic performance. But the policy was sprung on universities, with little attention to precedents at home or abroad,” Hillman said.

“A critical outstanding question is how the policy is to be paid for. The government has recently ruled out a quick sale of old student loans, which was the original source of funding. It is hard to square current forecasts on the future number of students with the expected cuts to public expenditure.”

The end result could be reduced spending per undergraduate, changes to student loans to recoup more of the costs of a degree course, “or even a reimposition of number controls in some form,” Hillman concludes in the report, published on Thursday.

via End of student cap was ‘sprung on universities’, ex-special adviser admits | Politics | The Guardian.

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