20,000 uni places to be redistributed in 2012
From next year, in controversial reforms, 20,000 university places across England will be auctioned off to higher education establishments that offer annual tuition fees below £7,500 per year.
As many as 6,000 undergraduates may instead be taught at specialist colleges rather than universities, with the coalition seeking to penalise institutions that charge the most for their degree courses.
Research from Labour's investigation into the planned reform found that as many as 2,300 places could be cut from prestigious Russell Group universities, with colleges in areas like Manchester, Newcastle, Blackpool, Bradford and Hull benefitting.
Low-cost universities are most likely to benefit, but colleges that offer degree-level qualifications may also be awarded more places. However, Labour's shadow Universities Minister, Gareth Thomas, feels that such a move could further undermine the course quality at many of these colleges.
"The government's plans put at risk thousands of places at universities with international reputations while expecting further education colleges, which are facing cuts of 25 per cent themselves, to offer far more degree places," he said.
"This is yet another sign that the government's plans for universities has not been thought through, and crucially, puts the quality of higher education in this country at risk."
The cost of providing undergraduates with means-tested grants and loans for tuition fees is footed by the government, which means they can control how many students each university recruits. With the average tuition fee from 2012 estimated at £8,393 per annum, ministers are keen to drive down these fees in order to reduce the student loans bill.
A recent government higher education White Paper outlined a margin of 20,000 places to be awarded to England's cheapest HE institutions, achieved through stripping student numbers pro-rata from the more expensive universities, and re-configuring those numbers into colleges and universities that charge less than the £7,500 threshold.
Dr Wendy Piatt, Director-General of the Russell Group, believes the White Paper will cut places from "institutions that have strong demand from well-qualified applicants and offer high quality teaching."
"We simply do not believe that redistributing those student places to institutions charging lower fees will drive up quality or improve student choice," she said.