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University Applications

Volume 542: debated on Thursday 15 March 2012

4. What assessment he has made of the level of applications to English universities for courses commencing in September 2012. (100021)

Order. The Minister will not do so, notwithstanding his extremely good intentions, as the grouping is broken for the very good reason that the hon. Gentleman in question has withdrawn his question. Nevertheless, we look forward to hearing the Minister’s mellifluous tones.

In that case, Mr Speaker, I shall reserve my answer to the question before us.

The latest UCAS figures show that 30.6% of UK school leavers applied to university, down from 31.4% the year before but still the second highest on record. This will still be a competitive year for access to university, like any other, as people continue to understand that university remains a good long-term investment in their future.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but what measures are the Government taking to ensure that the supply of places in 2013 and beyond matches the demand for places at English universities given the drop in applications for the 2012 entry and the confusion over student number controls for 2013 and beyond?

We will continue to offer a large number of places at university and they will continue to be very well funded. Indeed, the latest figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for England show that the funding for university teaching will go up from £8.9 billion this year to £9.1 billion next year and £9.6 billion the year after. That money is coming through in fees and loans—not fees that students have to pay up front—to ensure that we have strong, effective universities that can continue to educate many students.

That is welcome news, but from what my constituents have said one would not judge that from what is said at university open days. Institutions seem still to be seeking to attract students on the basis of their existing facilities, be they educational or otherwise, rather than providing information about value for money for the cost of their tuition. What is the Minister doing to encourage universities to publish data such as drop-out rates, teaching time, contact time with students and student satisfaction rates?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that students need to have access to such information. That is why we have identified the 17 key sources of information to which students attach most importance, and that should be available on Government websites before the start of the next round of university applications.

Is the Minister aware of the double whammy faced by universities such as Plymouth that are losing hundreds of students because of a combination of two of his policies, which are to redistribute 9% of their students to cheaper universities while allowing the elite universities to have unlimited numbers of students who get two As and a B. Will he look again at that policy, which will have a serious impact on the south-west economy?

Our policy of saying that universities are free to recruit students with AAB or better without number controls puts more power and choice in the hands of students, which is one of the key propositions of our White Paper. We need to strengthen students in the system to get universities to focus on high-quality teaching and we intend to go further with that proposal.

The Minister caused unacceptable confusion and uncertainty for students making applications and to higher education institutions last year through his introduction of the core and margin model. Will he take this opportunity to agree with us and to heed calls from across the sector that there should be no further changes to core and margin in the next academic year?

We are considering this in the light of the experience that universities are having, but we have made it absolutely clear that the direction in which we want to go is for more choice for students and more flexibility for universities. The timings will depend on the experience of universities.