AAB or AARGH? A schoolboy funding error in the #HEWhitePaper

Okay, so much in the White Paper to process, probably the focus of many posts to come, but here's the glaring issue for me.

Paragraph 4.19:
“We propose to allow unrestrained recruitment of high achieving students, scoring the equivalent of AAB or above at A-Level. Core allocations [I assume this means allocated student numbers] for all institutions will be adjusted to remove these students. Institutions will then be free to recruit as many of these students as wish to come. Under the new funding arrangements, institutions may be eligible for HEFCE teaching grant for these students, for example those on high-cost courses, and the students will be able to access loans and grants. This should allow greater competition for places on the more selective courses and create the opportunity for more students to go to their first choice institution if that university wishes to take them. We estimate this will cover around 65,000 students in 2012/13.”

The key point here is if a University decides to recruit 50 extra AAB students to, say, a Pharmacy course this means HEFCE has to provide additional funding (you know, the one that used to be called “core funding”) for those 50 students. Don't believe that “may” nonsense, this is a requirement of the model, based around the assumption that lab and clinical sciences cost more to deliver and are of value to the nation. This grant availability could significantly affect the levels of funding that HEFCE would need to make available.
Imagine 50 extra medical students instead, and the exposure of HEFCE (and the NHS) rises further [EDIT: @amacgettigan and others have pointed me to footnote 49 which covers the limiting of medical student numbers] . Basically the extra AAB students only make sense in terms of government funding exposure for non-core funded subjects, not healthcare or lab stuff.

The “low cost” (under £7,500, so not “low cost” by any accepted meaning of the term) margin in para 4.21 at least has the opportunity for central targeting via “agreed critera” so would be able to avoid this issue. Many of us were expecting these two margins to be linked, thus driving down the prices of more popular courses. Apparently not. We've been over this issue before here and, though we applaud the reuse of policy that has actually been proven to work, sticking cost in here as a criteria only makes the whole thing dumber. 

Really, paragraph 4.19, and the suggestion that this margin could be expanded downwards, contains nothing to prevent the slow emergence of a system offering only lab and clinical sciences courses priced at £9,000 to 'A'-level holders, which in terms of revenue generation would be the clear winner for institutions. I'm not convinced that this is the shape the sector wants to be in.

This post represents my personal opinions, and not those of current or former employers, projects, or programmes I am or have been responsible for. This post is available under a CC-BY license.

2 thoughts on “AAB or AARGH? A schoolboy funding error in the #HEWhitePaper

  • June 28, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    I think I disagree, or at least I don’t understand why the additional price group B numbers in your example couldn’t be managed within an institution’s contract range, certainly in 2012/3, and thereafter subject to decisions about the hence funding model

  • June 28, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    The additional numbers didn’t appear (in the White Paper) to be linked to specific price groups, so it would be in an institution’s interest to use them to expand group A or B provision and thus rake in £ from HEFCE.Cheers for your comment, I do like your blog a lot.


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