You need cookies enabled


You need cookies enabled

Executive summary


1. This document details the outcomes of a consultation on student number controls run by HEFCE from 3 May 2013 to 28 June 2013. It identifies the key points made by respondents (in their formal responses and at our consultation events) and our responses to these points, including where we have made changes to the proposals outlined in the consultation. A full question by question analysis of the consultation is available as Annex A.

2. The HEFCE Board has agreed the outcomes as published here. They will go into operation for the academic year 2014-15. 


3. When universities and colleges recruit students to higher education courses, they cannot take on an unrestricted number. HEFCE has been asked by the Government to give an allocation of places to each university and college for the number of students they may recruit. The purpose of setting an allocation is to restrict the overall size of the higher education student population, and thus to control the level of public funding needed for student support and loans. This allocation is referred to as the ‘student number control allocation’.

4. From 2012-13, higher education providers may also admit as many high-achieving students with certain qualifications as they wish, over and above their student number control allocation. Government decides on an annual basis where to set the high-grades threshold for these qualifications, and HEFCE provides a document, known as the ‘exemptions list’ providing details of all the qualifications and relevant grades that are not included within the student number control. For 2013-14 and 2014-15 admissions, it stands at ABB+ for A-level and certain equivalent qualifications. HEFCE refers to this as the ‘high grades policy’. The student number control allocation is only designed to control the number of students entering university or college. It is not designed to influence decisions about the suitability of candidates. Universities and colleges are autonomous organisations and such decisions are entirely theirs to make. They have always admitted students on the basis of academic excellence and potential, and they should continue to do so.

5. In 2013-14, only students applying with high grades from a set of the same qualifications (for instance three A-levels or three BTEC qualifications) were exempted from the student number control allocation. Students applying with a combination of qualifications (for instance two A-levels and one BTEC qualification) were counted within a university or college’s student number control allocation.

6. For 2013-14 admissions, HEFCE was also asked by Government to allow all universities and colleges some flexibility in their student number control allocations, to make sure that they could better cater to student choice and demand. From 2014-15, Government also asked HEFCE to look at how we might be able to offer more places to universities and colleges where there was evidence of demand from students, and treat those institutions that have less demand less favourably. HEFCE consulted on how we should implement this guidance.

7. We were also asked to look at how publicly funded providers that do not currently receive funding from HEFCE might become HEFCE-funded and therefore have their numbers controlled by HEFCE in the future. Forthcoming changes to student support regulations mean that publicly funded providers of higher education need to have a funding relationship with HEFCE in order for their students to access student support and loans. 

What are the changes for 2014-15 admissions?

8. The main change for 2014-15 admissions is that, provided the Government’s financial circumstances allow, universities and colleges that recruit significantly below their student number control allocations will lose some of their places, and these will be reallocated to those universities or colleges that recruit well. Those universities and colleges that lose places will have an opportunity over the next year to recover some of the places lost.

9. We have also agreed through consultation to run an application process for new publicly funded providers of higher education to apply for student numbers from 2015-16, thereby joining the HEFCE-funded sector. We will be issuing guidance on this process in spring 2014.

10. Following consultation, we are also making changes to the way in which we implement the high-grades policy, namely that universities and colleges will now be able to recruit an unlimited number of students applying with certain combinations of high-grade qualifications, in the same way that they have been able to recruit students with single sets of qualifications in 2012-13 and 2013-14. We have developed some criteria to identify the relevant combinations of qualifications. We are not able to exempt every possible combination of qualifications because we need to make sure that we can protect government spending by accurately predicting how many students may not be subject to student number controls, and because we need to ensure that universities and colleges can implement the policy in a workable way. We have produced a short summary list of all qualifications and grade combinations that are exempt from student number controls.

11. Students applying to higher education with qualifications, grades or combinations of qualifications that do not appear on our exemptions list should be reassured that we provide all universities and colleges with enough places in their student number control allocations to ensure that they can treat all applicants fairly. Any university or college that does not think that it has sufficient places to enable fair admissions can appeal to HEFCE for an increase in its allocation.

12. We will be closely monitoring the impact of these policies to detect any unintended adverse effect on any group of students. 

Where to find out more

13. The rest of this document provides more detail on the outcomes of HEFCE’s consultation on student number controls. We have also produced a guide to student number controls on our web-site, which includes a video explaining how the policy works in practice.

14. If you have any specific queries or concerns, please e-mail the HEFCE Learning and Teaching Policy team at

Action required

15. This publication is for information. 

Exemptions list

Date: 6 September 2013

Ref: HEFCE 2013/20

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions, Heads of universities in Northern Ireland

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Senior Management, Admissions, Planning, Finance

Enquiries should be directed to:

HEFCE-funded colleges and universities should raise any questions with their HEFCE institutional team (see searchable list of contacts).

Queries from other interested parties should be sent to