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Student numbers: an update

19 October 2011

An update from the Vice-Chancellor with regard to the deregulation of student numbers

The senior team and faculty colleagues have been considering the University’s response to the deregulation of undergraduate student numbers at ‘A’ level of AAB and above (or equivalent), and I thought it timely to provide you with an update on our position.

The proposed deregulation means that universities will no longer have a cap on undergraduate student numbers for those students who achieve AAB and above. The proportion of students to which this applies varies significantly across universities and, as you would expect, will cover a large proportion (over 80%) of our undergraduate intake at Bristol. 

It is important to say that throughout our considerations, we have remained very focused on the fact that whatever course we decide upon, it must not alter our position as an institution that is renowned for its exceptional quality of education and research. We must maintain our absolute focus on the overall quality of the student experience including ensuring the diversity of the student population. These objectives are fundamental to what we stand for as an institution and we deviate from these at our peril.

The deregulation does present us with an opportunity to carry out a managed and modest increase in student numbers, while maintaining our high academic standards. Undergraduate places at Bristol are among the most highly sought after in the UK and we currently have to decline entry to many exceptionally well-qualified applicants. So we are confident that an increase in intake in some subject areas is both achievable and sustainable. We cannot be complacent. We can expect many universities to seek to increase their intake of AAB+ students, some perhaps rather aggressively. In the new environment, if we fail to attract sufficient unregulated students we will not be able to make up any shortfall once our (about 20%) regulated numbers are achieved. All programmes are now ‘recruiting’ not ‘selecting’. Much will need to be done to ensure that we both continue to attract the highest quality students and achieve this modest but appropriate upturn.

In practical terms this is likely to mean that we will plan to admit across the University an additional 600 home students for 2012/13 entry. We are currently considering which programmes and subject areas would be most appropriate in supporting such an increase and more communication will follow in due course. We are very aware that key to the success of this will be the careful and considered management of all consequences of any change in student numbers and a great deal of thought and effort is being, and will continue to be, devoted to this.

It is also important to reflect on the cost control measures including the academic and support process reviews which have involved most, if not all colleagues in varying degrees over the last 18 months. These measures have been fundamental in ensuring our ability now to consider investing in areas in order to support this modest upturn in student numbers.

More communication will follow as we continue to give due consideration to subject areas as well as to the important infrastructure which supports the students experience overall.