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Clearing now complete or nearly complete at most Scottish institutions for Scottish and non-UK EU students

August 12, 2014

Disclaimer: clearing is a fast-moving and complicated process.  This post provides a snap shot of the information publicly available at the point of writing, for those with an general interest in how the system is working.  It should not be relied on by applicants, who should consult the UCAS website and universities’ own websites.

This earlier post highlighted early trends in accepted applications for Scottish students and by Scottish institutions, following the publication of Highers results on 5 August.  On 14 August, A-level results will be announced, opening the way to formal acceptances and clearing for students from the rest of the UK.

However, for Scottish students the process is already well-advanced of assigning places from within the ring-fenced (and controlled) number of government-funded places available only to this group (plus EU students).  As with the UCAS figures, even at this early stage there are indications of things to watch and questions to consider once the process is complete. In this case, the questions revolve around how far the higher education system in Scotland is able to adapt to changing patterns of student demand.

From a scan of university websites, cross-checked with UCAS, for Scottish and EU students, out of 18 higher education institutions in Scotland it appears that:

  • half (9) are now closed for clearing  (Aberdeen, Abertay, Edinburgh, Glasgow Caledonian, Heriot Watt, Queen Margaret, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, St Andrews, Strathclyde).  NB Strathclyde does however note it is still part of the new UCAS “adjustment” process, for those with better than expected grades, and the UCAS site still lists one undergraduate course each at Strathclyde and Edinburgh.
  • 6 have places available on three or fewer undergraduate courses (this analysis excludes postgraduate courses and undergraduate-level courses only open to graduate entry).  In 2 institutions (Dundee, RGU)  these are only available to those falling within widening access criteria and in another (Stirling) these are limited to courses provided on 2 plus 2 model with an FE college. The others are Napier, GSA and Glasgow.
  • 3 have a large number of courses still available (the University of the West of Scotland, the SRUC and the UHI).

There is also one Scottish FE college and one private provider with a small number of courses listed on the UCAS site. Outwith the UCAS process, there are still places available in a variety of HN-level courses in FE colleges: however, it is very unlikely that there will be degree level places available on any scale which are not covered by UCAS.

Those institutions declaring themselves out of clearing for Scottish and EU students usually include an explanation that a control on the number of places applies for this group.  This is a typical example, from Abertay:

Publicly funded universities in Scotland are required by the Scottish Government to limit the number of students they accept that normally reside in Scotland or the EU. However, there are no such restrictions placed on RUK or Overseas applicants.

It is not yet clear how far the relaxation of penalties for over-recruitment reported here has influenced institutional behaviour this year.

Places for rUK and international students remain more widely available, although St Andrews has declared itself not to be taking part in clearing at all, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland shows no vacancies on its own site or UCAS for rUK students, Edinburgh states that it is only in clearing for a limited number of non-EU overseas students and a number of others (eg GSA) only produce small numbers of courses for students from any domicile.  As institutions will only know next week how far their rUK students have achieved the necessary grades, comparing the availability of vacancies for rUK versus Scottish students does not make much sense at this stage, even leaving aside the absence of government funding and therefore number controls for most non-Scots.

At least as interesting here is the sign that any further large-scale recruitment of Scots to degree courses is now only possible in 3 institutions.  From A-level results day, UCAS issues daily statistics on the number of placed students.  Last year, between 15 August and 30 August (the last date for that series) Scots in Scotland increased by 1,600 or 6%, even though  places in clearing were reported to be limited much as they appear to be now.

That any significant further growth is likely to be concentrated in a small number of institutions raises questions about how opportunity is distributed. This is not a new issue, but it will be thrown into sharper relief if Scots in Scotland continue to see a lower rate of growth in acceptances than other groups of students in and from Scotland, and if UCAS acceptance rates continue to be low compared to UK more generally and  to the past (Table 15 UCAS end of cycle report 2013 (pdf) (2185.6KB)).

UWS, for example, has unusually high non-completion rates: of  the 2011-12  full-time first degree entrants,  after the first year 19.4%  were no longer in HE, the highest figures for any UK institution covered by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, compared to a “benchmark” of 9% taking account of  intake (and against a Scottish average of 7.9% and a UK average of 6.7%). The next nearest is London Metropolitan on 15.5% and then Birkbeck College on 13.3% (both have higher benchmarks than UWS).  See Table T3a 2011-12 figures, here. HESA’s “projected learning outcome” figures (table T5) for 2011-12 entrants estimate that 31.4% of UWS entrants will neither gain an award from the institution nor transfer to another one, again the highest figure in the UK, against its “benchmark” of 11.3% and and a Scottish average of 12.5%. The next nearest in the UK are London Metropolitan on 28%, then UHI on 23.9% and University College Birmingham on 21.6%. The SRUC has an estimated figure of 19.9%, meaning that the three institutions most represented in clearing for Scots have, by some margin, the highest projected outcome of neither an award nor a transfer among Scottish institutions, and relatively high figures for the UK as a whole.

UWS, UHI and SRUC all do a valuable job providing higher education to a range of students and parts of Scotland which would otherwise be more poorly served.  They all take an unusually large number of mature students: across the UK that generally correlates with poorer retention. But if a tight cap is going to be maintained on funded places in Scotland then, as demand rises, how far capacity is in the places students want it to be in the first place – and whether, say, there is any correlation between  non-completion and recruitment through clearing – increasingly matters.  In 2011-12, the HESA figures show UWS having the highest number of full-time first degree entrants of any Scottish institution, accounting for 11% of the total such entrants to higher education institutions that year.

This is not an argument for undermining good work done by any institution. However, when the state is controlling all the funding and in effect therefore all decisions about the pattern of provision,   failure to adapt to changing demand increases the risk of students ending up on courses that were not their original choice, have been chosen in a hurry and which all the signs are they less likely to complete, often building up living cost debt along the way.  Institutions are generally more effective lobbyists for the financial status quo  than individual disappointed students and former students are for change.  Yet the more state planning of the system (as opposed to a “marketised” approach) is held up as the ideal approach, as it currently is in Scotland, the larger the sensitivity to that power imbalance needs to be and the greater the willingness to challenge institutional interests on behalf of citizens.

It will also be interesting to see if last year’s 12% increase in placed applicants over the first week after Highers results is repeated this year.  That will  be needed to prevent the 4.4% year-on-year growth highlighted on results day from falling over the same week this year.

As HN-level places in colleges are not controlled in the same way as places in HEIs,  numbers there could continue to rise, and potentially provide some safety valve for unmet demand, but there is no easy way of tracking that in the short-term alongside the UCAS data. [Update: further opportunities for Scots in UK universities are also now available – more on that here.]

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