My Lords, I shall focus on the specific issue of justice for individual student applicants under these rules. I totally understand the need that the Government see to avoid beggar-my-neighbour admissions activities by individual universities that may harm the financial stability of other institutions, but I want to ask about two worrying issues that arise from these regulations.
First, as other noble Lords have pointed out, these rules will disproportionately affect widening participation of students. Why? Because these students, from poorer and more disadvantaged backgrounds, are considerably more likely—up to five times—to accept their offers between May and August or apply directly to higher education institutions during that time. As a result, almost all students still in the application process who have not yet accepted an offer are from these widening participation backgrounds.
As a result, where providers have had their student numbers set by the department, and where, as my noble friend Lady Quin observed, that control figure is less than existing acceptances and offers, a significant number of universities will need to recalibrate or withdraw existing offers from these particularly needy students to stay within the control limits. How do the Government propose to avert this highly undesirable and highly unjust outcome for some of our most needy students?
Secondly, how will these regulations interact with the provision announced a few days ago that students can choose to take A-level examinations in the autumn if they are unhappy with their assessed A-level grades obtained in the summer? If an A-level student intending to go to university in September decides on receipt of their assessed grades to take the autumn exam, they will presumably defer their entry into HE, but the number of students who do that is unknown and may be quite large. What happens to the student caps then? Are they revisited and adjusted to provide stability again? The combination of significant flexibility in the exam process and significant control in the university student numbers submission process do not fit together coherently.