Inside Higher Ed follows the Plan to Restructure British Higher Ed
"The British government released its long-awaited "white paper" on the future of higher education, offering a sweeping set of proposals that would produce dramatic changes in how the country would educate students and fund institutions.
"The reform plan released by British government's Department for Business Innovation and Skills says that in the first year of the new funding regime, around 65,000 high-achieving students will be able to go to whichever university will have them. This represents a change from the present strict controls on the number of students each university can accept. It raises the prospect of some elite institutions expanding their intake to vacuum up more top students.
"The government’s aim is to ensure that students with very high grades -- AAB or above -- on the country's college entrance exams will have a better chance of reaching their first choice of university.
"However, this new contestability will sit within an overall cap on the total number of student places in the sector. Consequently if some elite institutions expand their intake, it will be at the expense of others, which will necessarily have to shrink.
"It also means that highly selective institutions, such as those in the 1994 and Russell Groups (consortiums of elite universities), will have to compete for a large proportion of their students, many of whom already achieve AAB or above on the "A level" exams.
"Willetts denied that the government’s aim was to create an elite set of institutions in which all the top-achieving students were concentrated.
“I’m not trying to plan the system. The whole point about this is we’re taking some steps back and it will be the choices of students and the reaction of institutions – I have no view on that,” he said.
"He argued that with funding following the student, and universities and colleges forced to compete for those students, the quality of teaching and learning, and the student experience, would rise.
“We’ve got very strong incentives to reward research, and the intense competition through the [research excellence framework] and research councils has yielded an incredibly strong research [base]. We haven’t had comparable incentives on teaching,” he said."
A followup article elaborates on the two tier structure being contemplated: New Competition in the UK
"Asked for comments on the changes ushered in by the white paper, two vice-chancellors were critical of plans to make another 20,000 student places "contestable" by auctioning them off to institutions that charge average fees, after waivers, of below £7,500 (about $12,000).
"Under the government’s proposals, universities with students who secured grades of AAB or higher would lose those students from their standard allocation of places, but would then be allowed to recruit as many above the AAB threshold as they wanted, provided they could attract them.
"As an estimated 65,000 such places become contestable, some universities will lose AAB students and will be forced to drop their average fees below £7,500 if they want to claw back their numbers.Times Higher Education understands that an elite group of just 10 institutions have 40 percent of all AAB students
"Martin Hall, vice-chancellor of the University of Salford, said the combined effect of the AAB plans and the sub-£7,500 auction would be to increase "social sorting." Applicants would increasingly "end up going to universities with students like themselves," he argued.
"Hall said the government was allowing universities with more privileged student cohorts to charge £9,000 because they were perceived to be "high quality," while seeking to force down fees at universities such as Salford with high proportions of disadvantaged students.
"We serve that group. That is our mission, and we try to serve them well," he said. "The assumption that we don’t do that through providing quality is completely untested. If you are serving students … from non-traditional university backgrounds … you have to provide more resources to help [them]. In my university, teaching provision costs more than in a so-called 'top' university, where students come in with two As and a B."