UK government expected to announce student number caps across all universities

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland respond with anger to news they could have student number caps imposed on them by Whitehall

An announcement confirming a cap on the number of undergraduates UK universities can recruit this autumn is expected from the UK government this week.

Whitehall released a statement on Friday night saying: “We will shortly be setting out further details on how the student number controls will be implemented, including how they will work in the devolved administrations.”

However, devolved governments have reacted with anger to the suggestion that restrictions could be imposed by the UK government on universities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where decisions about higher education policy – including controls on UK, EU and international students – are made autonomously.

Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams wrote to UK universities minister Michelle Donelan on Friday night to say she was “disappointed” and “deeply concerned” about the plans.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan is expected to discuss the proposed measures with Ms Williams – along with Richard Lochhead and Diane Dodds, her counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively – with a statement expected this week. It is unclear whether the statement will apply to all UK nations or just England.

With international student numbers set to drop as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, student number controls were a condition of the financial support package for English universities announced by the UK government in early May, and intended to prevent more popular providers attracting and recruiting large numbers of undergraduates at the expense of their rival providers.

However, the package applied to English universities only, leaving devolved nations now angry at the suggestion the accompanying controls should be UK-wide.

Around 18,000 students at university in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland come from England. The most popular devolved nation for English undergraduates is Wales, which in the last academic year attracted 11,670 English undergraduates.

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