Russell Group opposes uncapped student numbers

Posted by Tom Walker in

The announcement to end the cap on student number controls in the UK has initiated a number of concerns, as political advisers believe the decision was "put together [too] quickly" and the cost will consequently be too high. The change would allow universities in September 2015 to enlist as many students as they wish. The Russell Group of leading UK universities strongly opposes the idea and is urging the government to revise their decision as reports reveal damaging financial consequences.

Chancellor George Osborne shocked universities last autumn when he announced that student enrollment would become unlimited. This liberalisation would allow for an estimated 60,000 extra students to enter into the UK's university system in 2015. Furthermore, there are concerns for the project's sustainability as political advisers have questioned, and instigated considerable enquiry into who will be funding it. Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, spoiled Osborne's strategy of funding the £2bn-a-year policy through the sale of the student loan book by refusing to allow this prior to the 2015 general election.

There is apprehension that any overspend will have a substantial consequence for other areas of the higher education budget, particularly government subsidies and research. Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think-tank, published a report comparing this rapid change in the UK's education system with a similar policy change that occurred in Australia. His research exposed that when the Australian government decided on a similar path, "more students enrolled than were predicted [and] the costs spiraled", pushing the government to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more. Wendy Piatt, director-general of the Russell Group of universities raised her concerns in saying, "now that the government no longer intends to use the sale of the student loan book to fund the uncapping of student numbers in England, we would urge it to abandon the policy or at least consider much more robust ways of controlling costs and quality."

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