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Poach the student: how UK universities could compete for second or third years

Jo Johnson, the higher education minister, has already set out the government’s vision for a system where students can move more easily between HE providers without losing credit for the work they have already undertaken.

Now UCAS, the university admissions service, has said it too regards greater “portability of qualifications” as “vital”. A spokesman said last week that it is working on plans to change its website so that students can search for second- and third-year vacancies.

Andrew Norton, HE programme director at the Grattan Institute, an Australian thinktank, says movement between universities there is increasing, with students choosing to transfer “up, down and across the system status hierarchy”, but typically within state boundaries.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute thinktank, says that there could be scope for UK universities to pursue students ruthlessly. “When Birmingham University went public about the fact it was going to make unconditional offers to students there was an outcry in the sector, but then lots of other universities quietly followed suit,” he says. “It is possible that some universities might start aggressively advertising that they will take good second-year students. Again there would be criticism, but others might then follow.”

Emma Pollard, a specialist in higher education at the Institute of Employment Studies who has researched credit transfer for the Department for Education, says: “One of the government’s ambitions for credit transfer was that students could trade up. “They could try higher education, maybe studying at a familiar institution or one with a lower entry tariff or studying at sub-degree level to gain a bit of confidence, and then perhaps consider their options.”

Ray Brogden, COO of Qualifi a UK regulated Awarding Organisation points out that there is an additional dimension to this, namely the ability for learners who have studied vocationally related higher education qualifications which carry credit values to also move “up, down and across the system”; significantly, across in terms of VRQ to Academic transfer. When combined with the fact that HE VRQs can be studied at a fraction of the University tuition fee costs, it makes a great deal of sense for students to utilise access to Advanced Learner Loans to pay the tuition costs of a Level 4 and/or 5 prior to transferring in to the academic mainstream i.e. the final year of a universities honours degree programme.