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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Revised list of qualifications exempted from the student number control for 2013-14

1. As you will be aware, the Government asked HEFCE to free up a proportion of student numbers from the student number control for 2012-13, specifically those achieving AAB+ at A‑level or equivalent, in order to facilitate dynamism in the higher education system. For 2013‑14, the Government has decided that this should apply to students achieving ABB+ or equivalent.

2. I am writing to inform you that HEFCE has published a revised list of qualification sets that are exempted from the student number control for the 2013-14 academic year. This replaces the list we published on the HEFCE web-site in July 2012 following the outcomes of the second teaching-funding consultation.

3. The revised list is published on the HEFCE web-site at . Note that the list now uses the term ‘exemptions’ rather than ‘equivalences’ to help clarify its purpose. Institutions should refer to this list when implementing the high grades policy and ascertaining which students are exempt from student number controls for 2013-14.

4. The revisions arise from further discussion with the sector and other stakeholders, and follow recommendations from HEFCE’s High Grades Policy Working Group. The group was established to advise HEFCE on issues arising during the admissions cycle and future implementation of the high grades policy, and met for the first time in October 2012. The group includes representatives from Universities UK, GuildHE, the Admissions Practitioners Group (of the Academic Registrars’ Council), the Association of Colleges, the Association of School and College Leaders, the Headmasters and Headmistresses’ Conference, UCAS, Supporting Professionalism in Admissions and Ofqual.

5. The revised list clarifies how BTEC National and OCR Cambridge Technical qualifications will be treated, and adds further grades for a small number of other qualifications. For BTEC qualifications, students achieving a set of grades at the levels shown in the exemption list under the suite of qualifications known as ‘Nationals’ (inclusive of the National Qualification Framework and Qualifications and Credit Framework versions) will be exempt for the purpose of this policy, as will students entering with a set of OCR Cambridge Technical qualifications.

6. In 2012-13 HEFCE provided the most selective institutions – those with over 80 per cent of their intake falling within the AAB+ exempt population – with an additional student number allocation, or ‘protected core’. This provided extra capacity for these institutions to ensure that applicants were not disadvantaged by the high grades policy during any stage of the admissions process, including confirmation, adjustment and clearing. The HEFCE Board has agreed that for 2013-14 we will continue this approach for these institutions, by setting their student number control limit to the lower of:

  • their actual 2011-12 non-ABB+ equivalent and non-medical/dental student numbers within the student number control population plus 10 per cent, or
  • 20 per cent of their total 2011-12 recruitment of non-medical/dental students that come within the 2011-12 student number control population definition.

7. Institutions that believe their student number control is set at a level that does not enable them to offer fair access for all applicants are able to appeal their limit through the annual appeals route. Reasons why an institution may consider it cannot operate fair admissions may include a belief that it has insufficient numbers to offer places to those high-achieving applicants with qualifications falling outside the high grades exemptions list: such as EU qualifications; or students entering with a combination of qualifications; or those students to whom institutions may wish to make contextual admissions offers.

8. The Government’s aims in pursuing its high grades policy are to respect institutional autonomy in admissions, improve student choice, and achieve dynamism which enables popular institutions to expand, while always ensuring the effective stewardship of student support budgets. The exemptions list has been developed solely for the practical and limited purpose of implementing the Government’s student number control policy, and is, in essence, a technical response to implementing Government policy in a manageable way. It is not a comprehensive or exhaustive assessment of students’ prior attainment. It makes no comment or judgement on the educational value or equivalence of grade/qualification combinations. HEFCE is not seeking to influence the determination of individual applicants’ suitability for admission to university. The autonomy of universities in admissions is always paramount.

9. HEFCE will continue to work with institutions and other stakeholders to ensure that this policy is understood. We are particularly keen to ensure fair access for applicants and ask that the contents of this note are made available to admissions staff. This will ensure that all applicants are given accurate and appropriate information at each stage of the admission process.

Yours sincerely


Sir Alan Langlands

Chief Executive


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Date: 16 November 2012

Ref: Circular letter 30/2012

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Student data, Planning, Admissions, Finance

Enquiries should be directed to:

HEFCE Higher Education Policy Advisers. Contacts for institutions can be found at