The AAB opportunity: which courses and institutions stand to benefit? #hewhitepaper

One of the only real innovations within the recent BIS White Paper on Higher Education was a relaxation of the student number cap for entrants scoring AAB (340 UCAS tariff points) or above. “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”, according to paragraph 4.19. But this flat language tells us very little about the kind of courses and the kind of institutions this would affect.

To get a better understanding of this, I’ve been playing with Unistats data, and have identified “areas of study” where the median entry qualification (that’s the “middle” of an imaginary ordered list of all entrant qualifications, stats n00bs) is at 340 UCAS points or above.

This approach showed that 422 institutional offerings across 21 (top level) areas of study in 52 English HE institutions had a median student offer of 340 points (AAB at A level) or above last year. Of these, 25 are medical courses and thus subject to student number controls. The remaining 397 are those most likely to be in a position to take additional students with AAB grades in 2012-13.

222 of these 397 courses are based in Russell Group affiliated universities, 151 in the 1994 group.
The University of Liverpool has 17 areas of study likely to be able to grow if AAB numbers are unrestricted, Nottingham, Leeds and Birmingham all have 16. Despite this, courses making AAB median offers are overwhelmingly based in the South East of England (74), and London (63).

(note, the graph above includes medical course related data)

Law (34), Languages (30), Social Studies (29) and Biological Sciences (29) are the areas of study most likely to be able to expand via the increased intake of AAB students.


So what does this tell us? At the moment, no major surprises. It is, in fact, comforting to see Social Studies subjects likely to benefit from this policy, and pleasing to see a reasonable range of institutions in a position to recruit more students via this policy. But I’m sure there are more stories that can be told, and for that reason the data is available as a google spreadsheet for your analytical pleasure. (note, I only added coding regarding institutional affiliation and region to the courses I was interested in, so I have only shared that. The full data set (minus those two fields) is from Unistats. I used the year 1 figures to examine the most recent set of entrants)

Other interesting lines of enquiry may be:
(i) how satisfied are students with these courses? how does this satisfaction rate compare to all courses in these subject areas?
(ii) what jobs do graduates from these areas of study at these institutions go on to? Are these better or worse paid than jobs done by graduates from these areas of study in other institutions?
(iii) What fees are being charged by these institutions for courses in these areas of study?

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

2 thoughts on “The AAB opportunity: which courses and institutions stand to benefit? #hewhitepaper”

  1. This is a useful post, thanks. I’d just note that HEFCE’s consultation clearly identifies the target group as students with AAB, not students with 340 UCAS points. As many students with three A levels will have other tariff-bearing qualifications too (Say a spare AS or a Grade 8 Music), 340 is too low to serve as a proxy for the target group. See my post worth noting that the 397 courses you identify are those most likely to lose, as well as most likely to gain. This is pretty close to zero-sum competition.

  2. Yeah – these are the courses/institutions that will be in this market… whether we see winners and/or losers amongst them is too difficult to call. My instinct is we would have to look lower to find the “losers”, areas where a few entrants at the top of the profile are “slumming it”. A play with the unistats data should identify these very trivially.I’m honestly not sure how AAB rather than 340 points is workable or defensible… but more prosaically I hadn’t got access to publicly available data on the former.

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