Nick Hillman, a former adviser to the ex- universities minister David Willets, has criticised the coalition’s policy to remove the cap on the number of students that universities can take in each year, claiming the plan was rushed. In a report for the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), Hillman claims that the government’s policy has not been properly thought through and “remains fuzzy”.
Mr Hillman says that “there will be clearer incentives for institutions to recruit EU students” once the cap is removed and “the challenges in collecting loan repayments from people outside the UK will become even more significant”.
According to the National Audit Office, almost half of all students from mainland Europe are failing to pay back their student loan, causing a £5.7bn gap unaccounted for in public finances.
While the government claims that the extra places will be funded in full, future politicians may reverse the commitment. In turn, this policy could lead to university budgets being stretched. The result of which may see universities having to increase class sizes to cover the costs. Hillman’s report for the HEPI highlights that the consequence of this would be “a substantial decline in the unit of resource (the amount of money spent on an individual student’s education)”.
With the majority of student halls at full occupancy across the country and many private rented ‘student friendly’ houses taken each year, the removal of the cap may also have severe implications for the housing of students.
However, despite the criticisms by the ex- adviser, a spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has said that the removal of the cap on student numbers is a “crucial reform”.
The spokesman also stated that the change in policy would help “to make a reality of the Robbins ambition that university should be open to all who are qualified by ability and attainment.
“This year has seen record numbers of young people admitted to university; including the highest ever number of people from disadvantaged areas”.