Ministers sow confusion on student places chaos

Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills Liam Byrne MP has attacked the 'wholesale confusion' in the Government's plan for expanding university places as ministers presented MPs with conflicting budget figures today. 

In Business, Innovation and Skills Oral Questions in the House of Commons today, Mr Byrne asked what funds BIS has set aside to meet the Chancellor’s pledge to ‘uncap’ university places, which remains apparently unfunded. In response the minister presented figures which contradicted previous statements from the Chancellor. BIS has failed to provide answers to Parliamentary questions tabled by Mr Byrne to seek clarification on the funds.

Following the minister’s answer, Mr Byrne has written to demand clarification. 

Figures from the House of Commons Library suggest a big cut in the funding from £8,000 to £4,000 per place if the government proceeds with plans to uncap student number controls which were presented in the Budget in March this year. 

The Minister’s statement comes after the head of HEFCE, the body responsible for university funding, wrote to Vice-Chancellors asking for “additional assurance” that the government’s reforms wouldn’t compromise on quality education.

Earlier this week a damming report from the Higher Education Commission stated that previous government reforms had created the “worst of both worlds” in the university funding system and recommended that the government look carefully at the impact of uncapping student places.

Speaking in response to the statement Liam Byrne MP, Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills said:

“Either Greg Clark has got his figures wrong or he's just pulled an imaginary £80 million rabbit out the hat. Either way, it may mask a huge cut in funding for student places revealing the government is indeed short-changing universities for a plan made up on the hoof. It looks like utter chaos. That’s why I’ve written to Greg Clark today – ministers need to come clean on the full implications of the black hole they’ve created in the student finances.”

 Notes to editors 

  • At BIS Oral Questions on Thursday 20th November, Universities Minister Greg Clark announced that £550M had been put aside to cover the removal of student number controls.
  • Liam Byrne received a response from the BIS Department to a Parliamentary Question on November 17th regarding plans to pay for the uncapping, which stated that the government were not able to provide details at the given time.
  • Figures from the House of Commons Library show the £410m allocated for the uncapping of student places in the 2013 Autumn Statement and the cost per student.

Expansion of Higher Education

Scored money for abolishing the cap (£m)*

Additional place estimates**

Cost per place
£               8,000
 £              3,867


*Treasury Scorecard, Autumn Statement

**2014-15: Greg Clark, 'Higher Education: diversity in strength' (9 September 2014)

2015-16: Autumn Statement 2013