Friday, 14 February 2014

What is Student Number Control?

How it used to be
Student Number Control is the system by which the Government regulates how many students each university in the UK can welcome through its doors. In effect, every university has a quota, which it cannot exceed, and that quota is dictated by the Government. The purpose of the system is to control student numbers, and distribute students geographically throughout the country, ensuring that a handful of super universities don't soak up all the talent.

The system has been in place for many years, but - and this is the important bit - it is about to end. From 2015, Student Number Control will be gone. The announcement that Student Number Control will end was made in the 2013 Autumn statement by Chancellor George Osborne. So what does it all mean? The answer is - big changes are ahead for universities across the country.

It's all George's fault

How the system works now
Right now, the government funds a fixed number of places at each university by lending students the money to cover their fees. The system is run by The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and there is not much flexibility in these quotas.

The only exception to the quota system is this: universities are currently free to accept as many top-performing applicants as they wish - ie applicants who get better than ABB at A Level. If universities exceed the number of students they recruit with grades lower than ABB, they get fined.

HEFCE - running the show

How the system will change
From 2015, each university can take as many students as it likes. The quota system will be scrapped entirely. No limits, no quotas - and no fines.

First, the good news
The good news is that, in effect, there will be many more places at University, potentially throwing higher education open to tens of thousands of extra students. According to the Chancellor - up to 30,000 extra students. So what this means is, potentially, a further large expansion of higher education in the UK.

It also means that universities which are very good at what they do, and are heavily over-subscribed, will be free to expand their numbers. And new universities that you haven't even heard of yet will be tempted to start up new courses.

The bad news
The bad news is that universities which have traditionally struggled to fill their quotas will be struggling even more. Expansion at the top means contraction at the bottom, so any university course which isn't already popular and performing at a high level will be under pressure.

Adam Smith would approve

Does this amount to privatisation of higher education?
In a way, yes. It certainly is an extension of free market principles to higher education, which has traditionally been heavily protected from the chilly winds of the market. If you are a follower of Adam Smith, you will probably rejoice. If you're in Karl Marx's team - it looks like bad news.

What does this mean for animation at Bucks?
For universities all across the country, all this means big changes. Under subscribed courses will likely have to close down or re-invent themselves. Popular, successful courses will likely expand and thrive. Some universities will likely face the threat of shrinkage, being taken over, or possibly even closure.

Gateway - our shiny new media hub

Take a look at The Times and The Guardian university league tables, and Bucks doesn't do well. But, focus on the creative arts, especially media production, and we do much, much better. The £40m investment in 2007 in the Gateway building (above) has paid off, with huge growth in media courses like Performance, Film and TV, Sound Design, Music Management and (of course!) Animation and Visual Effects.

The Gateway building is one of the best things about Bucks. The opportunity for our students to collaborate with other departments, exploring film-making across other disciplines, is huge, and it is unique. Any university can offer an animation course. Not many can offer the range of collaborations that Bucks can.

Sound design at Bucks
Our goal is to be the best animation and visual effects course in the country. For us, the ending of Student Number Control is an opportunity to grow our course and become the UK leader that we want to be.

That's a big ambition. Ask me in three years if we have pulled it off or not.


(Editor's note: For more on collaborations between departments at Bucks, read this piece on Sound Design.  For more on the Bucks Media Collaborations Page, see this article. To find out more about how to work successfully on group projects, check out this piece. )

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