Welsh universities: Fewer student places predicted

There will be fewer places on offer to students at universities in Wales this summer, according to new figures.

For the first time since devolution most will cut numbers between 1%-18%, although some will rise by up to 11%.

The cap is being enforced by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) to control the cost of financing student loans and bursaries.

The assembly government, which has ordered the cap, said continued increases were "not sustainable".

From September next year the assembly government will also foot the bill for thousands of grants which will protect students from Wales from increases in tuition fees.

BBC Wales has obtained details of the quotas under the Freedom of Information Act and has calculated the reductions using the most recent comparable figures provided by HEFCW.

The cap is calculated using figures for students who complete their first year of study, which means universities will have to take into account dropout rates when they decide how many applicants to admit.

In total, there will be about 700 fewer places in 2011/12 than in 2009/10.

Glyndwr University in Wrexham and Swansea University face reductions of 18% and 17% respectively, compared to 2009/10. Latest figures from Bangor University show it faces a cut of 15%, an adjustment from earlier statistics which had suggested it was 25%.

It will make winning a place at university harder than ever as applicants from England rush to avoid the hike in tuition fees.

A spokesman for HEFCW confirmed: "We will receive a reduction to our grant from the Welsh Assembly Government to reflect the costs to the assembly of institutions exceeding the maximum number allocation on the student support grant.

"We will decide in due course how we would allocate our reduced grant in those circumstances."

Added pressure

Until this year, universities were set recruitment targets but were not penalised for over-recruiting.

The loss of fee income will place added pressure on universities' finances as they face a 35% cut in teaching budgets, and a funding gap of £80m per year compared to English universities.

Universities may be able to claw back some extra places when HEFCW judges the strength of plans they have submitted on how they will work together on a regional basis.

Recent figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) showed the number of Welsh students going to Welsh universities in 2010 dropped by 15.3% on the previous year.

But the number of English students winning places at Welsh universities rose by 8%.

A Glyndwr University spokesman said: "The university will continue to drive a fair and equal admissions process for full-time students regardless of the cap".

Swansea University said although the reduction in funded undergraduate student numbers was "disappointing" they would "seek to work within the HEFCW guidelines".

The assembly government said: "Continued increases are not sustainable and it is essential that Welsh HE [higher education] institutions operate responsible recruitment policies.

"Institutions in Wales have amongst the highest student satisfaction ratings in the UK and it is in no-one's interest if universities recruit beyond their capacity to sustain high-quality provision.

"The adoption of this approach will bring Wales in line with the rest of the UK, where limits on student numbers already exist."

Bangor University said it had no comment on the figures.

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