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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Student number controls for 2013-14: Next steps

1. I am writing to notify you of preliminary decisions taken by the HEFCE Board at its meeting in December regarding the setting of 2013-14 student number control limits. This letter also includes a reminder of key dates in the student number control process over the next three to four months. I would also like to remind institutions of the purpose of the exemptions list, and the importance of higher education admissions and other staff understanding this purpose clearly – in particular, in their communications with prospective students and schools.

2. HEFCE will confirm provisional 2013-14 student number control limits on 18 January 2013, subject to the timing of our annual grant letter from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The limits will be provisional only, because they are subject to appeal: the deadline for the submission of appeals is 1 February 2013, and further guidance on appeals will be included in our letter of 18 January.

3. Institutions should be aware that our grant letter from BIS may contain further guidance to HEFCE as to how we should apply student number control limits, and how we should approach setting and monitoring them for 2013-14. If this is the case, we will reflect this in our notification to institutions of their provisional limits, as appropriate. Please note that your institution’s provisional allocation will include any places awarded through the ‘core and margin’ process. 

Impact of under-recruitment in 2012-13 on 2013-14 student number control limits 

4. Earlier this year we notified institutions that if they recruited significantly below their student number control limit in 2012-13, this might lead to a reduction to their baseline control limit in future years. However, the HEFCE Board decided at its December meeting that, in general, we will not reduce 2013-14 limits on the basis of shortfalls in 2012-13. This approach was decided because HEFCE is aware that, due to transient effects from the introduction of the new fee regime, 2012‑13 might be an atypical year for recruitment. For this reason, this approach applies for this year only. However, we may have discussions with a very small number of institutions, whose shortfalls appear particularly extreme, about setting an appropriate limit for 2013-14. 

Qualifications which are exempt from the student number control in 2013-14

5. The student number control serves to limit the number of students starting HEFCE-fundable full-time undergraduate studies, or a HEFCE-fundable Postgraduate/Professional Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), in the year. Some students starting such studies in the year are not counted against the limit, either because they are exempt on the grounds of their entry qualifications and grades, or for some other reason (there are fewer exemptions for certain specialist institutions in the performing and creative arts). The list of exemptions for 2013-14 was updated in November.

6. Most of the exemptions are based on sets of particular entry qualifications and grades. These are exempt solely for the purpose of operating a workable student number control to help limit the risk of excess recruitment across the sector, as this might lead to unplanned student support costs. The exemptions list in no way provides an exhaustive assessment of students’ prior attainment. We would not expect institutions to use this list to inform decisions about the quality of students’ qualifications, the admission of individual applicants, or students’ eligibility for institutions’ own scholarship, bursary or fee waiver schemes. The list is not intended to influence the determination of individual applicants’ suitability for admission, where the autonomy of institutions is always paramount.

7. HEFCE believes that the student number control limits we have set provide all institutions with sufficient numbers to offer fair access, including to students with high-grade entry qualifications that are not included on the list of exemptions. We would therefore expect institutions to ensure this can apply at all stages of the recruitment process, from consideration of initial applications through to adjustment and clearing through UCAS. However, if for any reason institutions believe that the provisional limits set for 2013-14 are insufficient to allow them to maintain fair access (including to students with non-exempt high-grade entry qualifications), and/or to meet commitments made in their access agreement with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) (such as the ability to make use of contextual data in admissions decisions), they should submit an appeal for an increase to the limit (by 1 February 2013), supported with appropriate evidence.

8. A number of schools and other organisations have recently expressed concerns to HEFCE regarding the use of the exemptions list. The concern is that high-achieving pupils with either combinations of different qualifications (such as a BTEC, or the Cambridge Pre‑U, taken in combination with A‑levels,) or with qualifications from other EU states, might be disadvantaged in the 2013-14 admissions round, because their qualifications are not exempt from the student number control. HEFCE is very anxious to reassure those concerned, above all students who are potentially affected by this issue, that the fact that their qualification sets or combinations do not appear on the exemptions list should in no way disadvantage high-achieving students in the applications process, and that institutions continue to have the autonomy and scope to make admissions decisions solely on the basis of academic merit. I would be extremely grateful for your help in communicating this message to applicants, schools and other stakeholders. In particular, I would urge you to ensure that your admissions officers (and others in your institution who are in contact with prospective students and schools), clearly understand and communicate with stakeholders that your institution has sufficient numbers to provide fair access to these students.

Next steps

9. At the Board’s next meeting on 31 January 2013 it will consider its approach to funding and setting budgets for different elements of grant in 2013-14. It will also make decisions about the approach to recalculating 2012-13 recurrent teaching allocations, in the light of the latest student number data that we have received. We will publish a circular letter summarising the Board’s decisions in early February.

10. We will confirm student number control limits, reflecting the outcome of any appeals, in the week beginning 25 February 2013. On 18 March 2013 institutions will be able to download their recurrent grant letters from the HEFCE extranet; these will set out initial funding allocations for 2013‑14, and adjusted teaching funding allocations for 2012-13. The content of these documents will be embargoed until 0001 on 21 March 2013: we will publish full information about our allocations to all institutions on that day.

Yours sincerely

Sir Alan Langlands

Chief Executive

Date: 18 December 2012

Ref: Circular letter 32/2012

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

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Planning, Finance, Admissions

Enquiries should be directed to:

HEFCE institutional teams (contact details)