HE’€™s top five

University Business Editor Rebecca Paddick rounds up the biggest developments over the last 12 months in UK higher education

1. Student cap lifted

George Osborne’s 2013 Autumn Statement revealed there would be an extra 30,000 student places this year, as an interim step before the abolition of the cap in 2015.

The chancellor said: “Each year, around 60,000 young people who have worked hard at school, got the results, want to go on learning and want to take out a loan to pay for it, are prevented from doing so because of an arbitrary cap. That makes no sense when we have a far lower proportion of people going to university than even the United States, let alone countries like South Korea. Access to higher education is a basic tenet of economic success in the global race.”

2. Rise in applications

UCAS figures, released in January, confirmed that overall applicant numbers were up by 4%, to 580,000, only slightly below the record level of 2011 (583,350). The application rate for English 18-year-olds increased to the highest ever level (34.8%). The rise was repeated in September when more than 461,000 UCAS applicants from the EU and UK began UK degree courses, a 4% increase on last year.

3. UK undergraduate numbers drop

Also in January, figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) found there was a 17% fall in the number of first year undergraduates at UK universities in the first year of higher tuition fees. England saw a 12% fall in new full-time undergraduate students overall. The government acknowledged the fall but stressed that demand for full-time higher education has already ‘returned to record levels’.

4. A new face for HE

David Willetts resigned as minister for universities and science as part of the Prime Minister’s major cabinet reshuffle back in July. The news followed speculation on a number of previous occasions that Mr Willetts was at risk of losing the universities brief. Greg Clark, MP for Tunbridge Wells, was appointed as Minister for Universities and Science in addition to his current role as Minister of State.

5. UK students more satisfied

HEFCE analysed the results of the annual National Student Survey back in July. The report highlighted a rise in satisfaction levels since 2005, especially in areas such as academic support and assessment. It shows overall satisfaction levels have risen by five percentage points, from 80.2% in 2005 to 85% in 2013. HEFCE Chief Executive, Prof Madeleine Atkins, said: “The NSS is an invaluable source of intelligence for universities and colleges. The reports confirm the robustness of the NSS, and the value it adds to UK higher education.”

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