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UK steps up UK/EU numbers cap for some private providers

Concern over the rapidly growing enrolment activities of some of the UK’s private education providers has prompted Minister for Universities & Science, David Willetts, to publish a Written Ministerial Statement this week confirming that the government will ask 23 private operators to immediately halt further recruitment of UK/EU students onto HND and HNC certificate programmes.

Money provided to UK and EU student claimants has nearly tripled in a year

Total public expenditure on these students has risen from £60m to £175m

The concern stems from increasing access to the public purse by some of these students, who are seeking maintenance grants and student loans for tuition fees. Student loans, delivered via government-run Student Loans Company, can be written off if a recipient does not reach the salary threshold to start repayments.

Willetts revealed that the number of British and EU students claiming support at APs (alternative providers) had grown from 13,000 in 2011/12 to 30,000 in 2012/13, and the total public expenditure on these students has risen from £60m to £175m.

“This is 4% of the total student support budget,” he said. “Growth has been particularly concentrated among students studying for Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and the Higher National Diplomas (HNDs).”

“We have therefore written to the 23 APs that are expanding most rapidly to instruct them to recruit no more students for HNCs and HNDs in the current 2013/14 academic year.”

A question mark was also raised over the proof of three-year EU residency that EU applicants must provide

The statement this week was in response to a story in The Guardian newspaper, which claimed that four in 10 of those receiving support to study HNDs and HNCs were from overseas. A question mark was also raised over the proof of three-year EU residency that EU applicants must provide.

Willetts acknowledged a “concurrent” problem, which is verifying maintenance applications from EU students given a noted surge in applications from Romanian and Bulgarian applicants.

“We identified that there had been a significant increase in the number of Bulgarian and Romanian students applying for full student support in England this year,” said Willetts.” This support is usually only available to EU citizens resident in the UK for a minimum of three years. We have asked each of these students to supply additional information to support their applications for maintenance, before any further public funding is made available to them or to their institutions. We have asked all EU citizens applying for maintenance support in England to supply this additional information.”

“We have asked all EU citizens applying for maintenance support in England to supply this additional information”

Willetts confirmed that degree programmes would not be affected by the immediate cap, but he has already announced that there will be a cap on HE numbers for 2014/15 admissions pending a review.

“The government announced in March 2013 that it would introduce number controls for 2014/15 academic year based on institutions’ 2012/13 entry data,” he explained in the statement. “Alternative Providers were asked to submit data to HEFCE on their recruitment plans. The Department received this data on 5 November and concluded that some of these plans were unaffordable, given the need to control public spending.”

In June 2013, the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) published a Research Paper on private HE providers, and in this report, one recomendation indicated: As well as ensuring quality, government should consider how any new regulatory framework might deal with provider failure (including any appropriate redress for students), as well as ensuring access to student loan financing is appropriately robust.

In this same report, BIS estimated that in 2011/12 only 6% of the student population at private colleges accessed loans, although clearly, the number is now out of date.

A spokesperson at BIS said no information was able to be provided about which institutions were impacted by the current cap.

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