Wednesday, 30 November 2011

UCAS data

A couple of days ago UCAS released their year-to-date data for 2012 entry. Mark Leach has already pointed out that the year-on-year falls reported by certain media mainly tell us how strong applications were last year. The point is actually made very clearly by a couple of graphs from the UCAS release:
2012 looks different to 2011, but pretty similar to 2010.

So it is clearly too early to panic, but at the same time it is too early to relax either. Applications at this point in the year are no guide to applications at the end of the process. Even if (and it is an if) we have reason from these data to think that applicants think their first-choice universities are worth the new, much higher, fees that tells us little about how they may value second choice universities and therefore what may happen in Clearing.

Although people sometimes talk of 'selecting' and 'recruiting' institutions, almost all universities are active in Clearing to one extent or another, and plenty depend on Clearing to fill courses which would not otherwise be viable.

So I agree with Mark's stated conclusion that the 'data can not offer us any serious conclusions about why people are/are not applying for university', but perhaps I'd put greater emphasis on the remaining downside risks. That's the kind of fun guy I am.

Friday, 25 November 2011

UCL Moves East

The news that they might have to move out to Stratford has been greeted by at least some UCL staff with predictable dismay. Even with Westfield, Stratford isn't quite Bloomsbury. Colleagues at UEL probably aren't so happy either.

If this project matures (and there are some significant obstacles) it will be an interesting test of how much things are really changing in the sector. We once had clear rules and expectations for these kinds of project. HEFCE would be touched up for capital and revenue funding. In consequence of HEFCE's love of collaboration and hatred of all kinds of unseemly fuss, local institutions would be brought into the fold - preferably across the HE/FE divide. Thus we got Birkbeck Stratford (on a rather smaller scale than UCL are planning), and the New University Challenge. Now, HEFCE may no longer have the capital funding to make any real difference to what UCL want to do, and may not have much revenue funding either (although they still have control over student numbers up to a point). UCL may simply ignore the presence of Birkbeck and UEL in Straford (not to mention Newham College).

William Cullerne Browne sets out the alternative hypothesis, that it is precisely the new funding regime that will make this kind of deal a possibility. We'll see, I suppose.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The College of Law again

Education Investor reports that there are 8 potential bidders now interested in the College of Law (although not naming Duke Street as one of them).

It is interesting that the numbers suggested, ranging from £175-£250 million are all well short of the £300 million which Apollo paid for BPP back in 2009. By 2009 the whole global collapse thing was already well established so it isn't as if that bid was made during a period of irrational exuberance akin to the dot com boom. The College of Law is at least as good a business as BPP. These numbers suggest that the reality of what Government is actually doing to liberalise HE and let in private sector players is much less appealing to the private sector in 2011, than the thought of what Government might do was in 2009. So whilst the speculations in my Duke Street post haven't held up all that well, the point I made here that the private sector doesn't really seem to be up for this revolution still seems to me to stand.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Core/Margin: Implementation

LOC Utah Prisoners c1885Many things have happened during my intermission from blogging. This post is about the developments specifically in core/margin. Twenty seven institutions re-negotiated their Access Agreements with OFFA, and 201 universities and colleges (mostly FECs of course) have now bid for 35,811 margin places. There are 20,000 places available and HEFCE have announced that they will allocate places to eligible bidders pro-rata to their bid numbers.

Compared to my expectations, this must constitute a considerable success for the Government's agenda. Few or none of the twenty seven will see advantage to themselves or their students from their lower fees.

For the institution, 4,000 entrants at £8,500 are worth a much revenue as  4,500 at £7,500 but cost more to teach, so to wind up ahead financially the thirty-odd HEIs bidding for places would have to win almost all the 20,000 places available (unless they are very small HEIs on average). If bids are pared down pro-rata, that is unlikely to happen. Even if it does happen this year, it is going to have to keep happening year after year as further core/margin adjustments are made. Most institutions would do better financially to tough it out at a higher fee level.

Some of the institutions may have brought their numbers down primarily by switching student bursary support into fee waivers, which gives the student lower debt repayments in the distant future (or perhaps a smaller sum written off at the end of the loan) but takes actual cash out of their pockets now.That isn't a good deal for students.

It therefore seems likely that most of the twenty seven are looking ahead to a possible future in which continued cuts from the core would put them out of business. There is an element of the prisoners' dilemma here because if the Government's policies drive a few universities into bankruptcy that is a problem for those universities; if almost all the existing universities are bankrupted, that is a problem for the Government. Because a significant group of universities have moved, and the margin numbers have been substantially overbid, Government will be emboldened to keep pushing, and institutions above £7,500 (and below AAB) will begin to feel more threatened. We can expect to see a further wave of fee reductions next year.

The upshot of this seems to me to be that the chances that the current fee regime will form a sustainable, long-term regulatory and funding basis for English HE is significantly higher than it seemed when I was last blogging about a month ago. Whether you view that as good news or bad depends largely, I imagine, on your political stance.  

Monday, 14 November 2011

Service resumed

Just a short note to say that, following a slightly longer intermission than expected, my new employer has given me permission to continue blogging so I shall probably start up again shortly.

My new role is a little broader than 'planning', but although Phil Ward has been unkind about it, I like the title I've given this blog, so it won't change.