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Limit on new student numbers may be set to help universities in England

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-04-01 09:34

Universities in England are facing fixed limits on student recruitment that could be enforced in response to uncertainty caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Limits on enrollment numbers may be required in order to create more stability and avoid an admissions free-for-all, or some universities may have too few applicants to stay financially viable.

A government source told the Guardian that each university would face limits on the number of British and European Union undergraduates it could admit for the academic year starting in September.

BBC News reports that universities are also expecting a fall in overseas student numbers-making funding from home students even more important.

Members of Universities UK, which represents 137 institutions, were scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss options, including the possibility of seeking additional support for research-intensive universities via "quality-related "research funding.

The BBC reports that introducing student number controls would ensure that the share of students between universities stayed similar to the current levels, providing them with more security over tuition fee income.

Universities UK chief executive, Alistair Jarvis, said financial support from government for universities was necessary.

In terms of student caps, Jarvis said: "There would need to be a clear case of the benefits, any proposal would have to be sector-led not imposed, strictly time-limited and carefully crafted to avoid unintended consequences," he said.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, warned that setting limits might bring short-term stability, but at the expense of "stopping the expansion of university places "and "reducing the choices of individual students".

Another consequence of limits, might mean those universities that have previously welcomed large numbers of international students will seek to replace them with UK students, meaning other institutions face financial problems.

The Guardian noted that limits might protect lower-tariff institutions, but could leave research-based institutions-currently involved in the fight against COVID-19-vulnerable because of the loss of the international student fee income that subsidizes their work.

Many of the country's leading research-based universities have become increasingly dependent on overseas admissions in recent years. In 2017-18, of the 12,000 students at the London School of Economics, 8,000 were from overseas.

School leaders have urged the government to ensure A-level students, who have had their exams cancelled this summer because of the virus crisis, do not face further disadvantage by losing university places because of any cap on student numbers.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, voiced concern. "We cannot have a situation in which year 13 students are disadvantaged, particularly given that these young people have already faced the uncertainty and anxiety of their exams being cancelled," he said. "We understand the pressures on the higher education sector in the current crisis but students should not suffer as a result."

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