Friday, 3 June 2011

The White Paper

This post somehow got stuck at draft stage and I didn't notice. Now published late, and long after anyone will have lost interest. Hey ho.


Via William Cullerne Browne I learn of two further ideas allegedly under consideration for the White Paper. One is to allow over-quota recruitment to students with very high tariff points, and the other to allow over-quota recruitment to institutions charging very low fees. Alongside the off-quota proposal briefly floated by David Willetts this week, this shows (or seems to show) that BIS now understand that their own student number capping policy is the key stumbling block to achieving the fees market that they want.

WCB says in the same post that the core-margin option has been dropped, which leaves me a little non-plussed. Both these ideas look like ways of implementing core-margin to me, given that institutions have their core numbers capped by the SNC, but can grow at the margin if they meet certain criteria...

The essential problem with the high-tariff option is that it cannot be made to work. A significant minority of HE entrants have no tariff points at all, or have both tariff points and other relevant experience. See the HEPI report for some numbers. These could be people educated outside the UK, older applicants or just applicants with non-tariff bearing qualifications: they are not necessarily poorly-qualified applicants. So even if you could get elite universities to use UCAS tariff for their admissions decisions (which not all do by any means), the application of this policy would result in unlawful discrimination.

There's no essential problem with the low-fee option, but there is a practical problem because there are only a very few institutions charging low fees. Assume that in London LMU is allowed to expand, whilst UEL, Middlesex, LSBU and other institutions well north of £8k are not. Given the undersupply of HE in London, LMU will have to expand numbers very significantly in order to leave the others with enough unfilled places to make them reconsider their fees policy.* Clearly Middlesex with its current numbers at £9k is better off financially than LMU with 20% more numbers at £6k. I'm not sure this would even be enough to persuade the current low-fee institutions to stay low-fee if they see their peers doing OK at much higher fee levels.

If these are the best ideas in circulation, then I think we will be waiting a while for the White Paper.


* I am assuming that overall demand for HE will not collapse in the face of 9k fees, which of course it might. But if it does, then no policy intervention would be needed to bring down fees at less prestigious institutions.

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