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19th March 2012

Further education colleges awarded undergraduate places while universities face a cut

Places at higher education institutes are being re-distributed in an attempt to provide cheaper alternatives to traditional university degrees

While many Russell Group universities are having their places cut, over 10,000 undergraduate student places have been awarded to further education colleges.

With an aim to encourage the growth of a low-cost alternative to traditional universities, 20,000 places have been taken from higher education institutions and auctioned off to universities and colleges who are charging average tuition fees of £7,500 or less this year.

Around 9,600 of the places have gone to universities, the biggest winners being Anglia Ruskin, London Met, Nottingham Trent and Staffordshire.

But further education colleges, including Newcastle College and Hartpury College in Gloucester have gained over half of the places.

Last year many universities chose to charge the highest fee of £9,000 to students starting their study this September. The offer of additional places to institutions charging less than the maximum was intended to put pressure on others to reduce their fees.

At the end of last year, 25 higher education institutions brought down their average fees in order to have a chance to gain more student places.

Universities Minister David Willetts said that this redistribution of places would put “pressure for quality and value for money” on universities.

But institutions that have chosen to keep the highest fees are disappointed with their loss of places.

Plymouth University Vice-Chancellor Wendy Purcell is outraged that her university stands to lose 10 percent of its undergraduate places despite having big increase in applications.

She said: “We are at a material disadvantage of losing 868 student places. This is against a backdrop of increased student demand for the Plymouth experience with our undergraduate applications for 2012 entry increased by 6 percent.”

A second reform introduced by the coalition government is allowing institutions to expand to take on more students who achieve grades AAB or higher at A-Level. This is expected mainly to benefit elite universities.

But Professor Purcell says that this policy will have a negative impact on many students from non-traditional backgrounds seeking places at Plymouth.

A third of the university’s places are with partner colleges, where students start off studying a foundation degree. They then hopefully progress to an honours degree in their final year with Plymouth.

Purcell said: “Last year the University had over 500 applications from pupils taught at schools in deprived areas of whom just two who went on to enrol fell in to the AAB+ category, the remainder of those potential students are competing for a significantly reduced number of reduced places at Plymouth University.”

Although the government says it wants to put “students at the heart of the system,” there will be “many hundreds of local students planning to attend Plymouth University who will be refused a place,” she said.

She has called for a greater understanding of the role universities play in raising aspirations, transforming lives and educating students from non-traditional backgrounds.

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