Latest UCAS data show that demand from young people for full-time courses in 2013-14 may be returning to previous levels following a dip in 2012-13. Entry to part-time courses has undergone more significant decline since 2010 [note 1]. Beneath these overall figures there is a mixed picture, with different institutions and groups of students affected in different ways.
Only when patterns of demand become more established will we know the answers to longer-term questions such as whether recruitment to postgraduate courses is affected, and whether recent positive trends in widening participation continue to hold up.
A new HEFCE observatory, to be established later this year, will continue to monitor these and other issues.
Sir Alan Langlands, HEFCE’s Chief Executive, said:
‘It is difficult to draw firm conclusions at this early stage of the reforms. The sector is currently in reasonable financial health, and student demand appears to be recovering after last year’s fall.
‘But today’s report also highlights some causes for concern: in particular, sharp drops in recruitment to part-time courses and a related decline in mature entrants. And although recent positive trends in widening participation appear to have been sustained in the first year of the reforms, disparities in the recruitment and retention of students by social background and gender remain unacceptably stark. HEFCE will continue to monitor these and other issues, taking action as necessary.
‘The funding reforms are a means to an end. Ultimately, they must be judged on the quality of learning and teaching and the student experience, excellence in research and knowledge exchange, and the contribution of higher education to the economy, society and culture.
‘There are certainly challenges ahead, but also significant opportunities. Higher education in England is a success story; it is adaptable and resilient, and will continue to move from strength to strength.’