Colleges secure more than half of degree student places

More than half of ‘margin’ student places – with tuition fees of less than £7,500 – have been handed to further education (FE) colleges.

A total of 20,000 places have been divided by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) between 190 universities and colleges.

However, 9,643 places have been distributed between 35 higher education institutions (HEIs), with 10,354 places between 155 FE colleges. It comes after a bidding process which began in October when HEFCE published its approach to implementing the control on the number of full-time students universities and colleges can recruit for 2012-13.

Ministers announced plans for “core and margin” places in a White Paper last year, months after MPs voted to raise tuition fees in England to a maximum of £9,000 per year.

A statement from HEFCE said: “The core and margin process was introduced by the government with the aim of increasing student choice and supporting a more diverse higher education sector.”

Bids were assessed on “criteria of quality, demand and cost” and only those with average fees of £7,500 or less were eligible.

HEFCE received bids from 203 institutions for 36,000 places. Direct funding will be given to 65 FE colleges they did not fund in 2011-12.

These include Hartpury College and Newham College of Further Education, which secured 352 and 294 places respectively.

However, Nick Davy, HE policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said some universities had withdrawn places from the sector.

He said: “The quality of college bids through the core and margin system has led to an allocation of around 10,500 additional full time student numbers for the sector – an increase of 25 per cent on present numbers.

“However, this figure is brought down substantially by the practice of universities withdrawing indirect student numbers from the sector.”

The AoC’s latest research, from December, shows more than 26 per cent of colleges indirectly funded by HEIs are experiencing a cut of 10 per cent of places or more.

Also, 14 per cent of those colleges have been informed by a partner HEI that they intend to withdraw all entrant student numbers from 2012.

Mr Davy added: “AoC estimates that the growth in entrant numbers actually is nearer to seven per cent, a long way from the government’s intention to significantly support degree level growth in the college sector.

“The core and margin system is thus a complicated step in promoting growth in degree level courses charging below £6,000 a year.

“AoC would argue that there needs to be a considerable increase in margin places to achieve the government aim of creating a more cost effective and accessible HE sector.