Monday, 6 February 2012

Core and Margin yet again: drawing some connections with the UCAS data

There have been a lot of core/margin posts on this blog and they used to be one of the main things that people read. As time goes on, other topics have gotten more popular, but core/margin still matters a lot to me so I'm going to carry on posting.

HEFCE have recently announced the core allocations for all institutions and now the margin allocations have been made (although I can't find the detailed allocations on the HEFCE site yet, hence the BBC link). Something important to note is that of the 20,000 margin places available, 9,500 have been allocated to FE Colleges. Looking at this little table for England and Scotland tells you a couple of important things:

HE Students in HE institutions and FE Colleges 2009/10

  England Scotland
FT 1,345,665 162,955
PT 747,965 57,955
FT 22,215 30,620
PT 78,240 19,695

This shows that on the one hand there's no reason why FE colleges cannot deliver a large proportion of the full time HE in England, just as they do in Scotland. But as a matter of current fact they don't. The vast majority of current English HE-in-FE is part time. The additional 9,500  places will represent something like 40% growth in HE-in-FE FT numbers in a single year. Just as with the rest of the sector, however, FE college applications are down year on year (see here). As at 15 January I make it 36,988 applications for HE-level study at English FECs (although I might have stripped out the odd FEC which I mistook for a private provider, so don't hold me to that last 88). Most applicants make more than one application so 36,988 applications won't be enough to fill all the places unless those applicants are all unlucky elsewhere. English applicants are going to have to choose FE colleges in Clearing to an unprecedented level if those places are all to be filled: it isn't impossible but I wouldn't bank on it. 

The UCAS data don't enable us to identify where the AABs are, but HEFCE have given us data on where the AABs were last year - the basis they have used for their adjustments to Student Number Control limits. Here are a couple of interesting charts.

Chart 1: Numbers of AAB+ Students
 Institutions are ranked by proportion of AAB+ students, so that very small bar next to the axis is the Courtauld Institute of Art, all of whose students were AAB+, the next two are Oxford and Cambridge, 98% AAB+, and the last of all is Bishop Grosseteste University College, Lincoln, just 3% AAB+.

 I think this chart shows quite clearly that the AABs are strongly concentrated on the left-hand 20 or so institutions. If these collectively were to increase their AAB intakes by 10%, they would need to take nearly a third (31%) of the AAB intake from the next 20, or over half (53%) the AAB intake of institutions 41-60.  A big ask.

This chart adds in the below-AAB numbers:

Chart 2: All students

You can see how few institutions there are outside the top 20 with a significant proportion of AABs. Institution number 40 (which is actually Bournemouth) has just 18% AAB+, so even losing a third of these would only be a 6% cut in intake. This would be painful - especially on top of the existing core/margin cuts - but certainly not fatal to the institution. 

All of this is to confirm my previously-expressed views that AAB really threatens only a very small group of surprisingly posh universities - Newcastle, SOAS, Leicester - but if we combine it with the UCAS data we can put together our own personal watch-list of institutions in serious danger. These people seem to have a high proportion of AABs and a worrying drop in applications:

% AAB Drop in applications
Aston 36 -20.5
Surrey 32 -21.5
City 30 -21.6
Goldsmiths 21 -23

Now 'serious danger' needs to be put into context. Surrey, to take one example, is a tremendously sound institution financially which made an £11 million surplus last year. It will take more than one bad year's worth of home UG recruitment to put a real dent in Surrey as an institution. In fact none of these institutions is going to be knocked over by a single bad year.

So the question becomes: when will the AAB boundary move down? Here, you would have to say, the recent signals are worrying for the affected institutions (reassuring for those of us lower down the food-chain, of course). The HE Bill is being delayed which means that powers to control the growth of numbers in the private sector don't exist yet. At the same time the HEFCE grant letter clearly showed that BIS judge existing
Student Number Controls in the public sector too weak. This is not the context in which a rapid move down through ABB and beyond seems likely.

Colleagues from Goldsmiths took a prominent role in the campaign against the Government's fees policy, so perhaps David Willetts would be happy to seeenjoy the bad publicity much less than any feeling of schadenfreude. So whilst in the short term managing the risks of AAB are an issue for the institutions, in the medium term, there are key risks for the Government here. They cannot afford to delay that HE Bill too long.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that the key question is when will the AAB boundary move. AAB has already caused massive disruption and uncertainty for many applicants. I imagine that, come August, we are going to see an increase in the number of stories about MPs lobbying universities on behalf of bright pupils (with grades of ABB) who didn't get in to their preferred university because of the core and margin.
    Personally, I think that this means the pressure to move the boundary will become overwhelming. An open competitive market, but only for students with grades of AAB or above cannot be justified.
    Also, I’d like to pick up on your phrase “surprisingly posh universities”. I work at Leicester, a University which works hard to deliver strong results in terms of fair access. It is the only institution amongst the Times top-20 leading universities to meet the HESA benchmarks for inclusivity for students from lower-socio economic groups and state schools. Posh is a loaded word, and whether somewhere is posh or not is a matter of opinion and perception. However posh doesn't sound like a plausible description of where I work.