'Poaching' fear over students

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

UNIVERSITIES have been warned against poaching each other's students under a new admissions system, coming into force this week. Officials fear that tutors will try to fill their courses by recruiting students already signed up elsewhere.

Students who get better A-level grades than expected and who try to secure a place on a more popular course than the one they originally chose will be in breach of a binding contract, universities have been told.

If a free-for-all does take place, some of the former polytechnics could lose out. Among the most vulnerable are Luton, Derby and East London.

Tony Higgins, the headof the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas), which will administer both old and new universities' intakes for the first time this year, has appealed to admissions officers not to break the rules.

Two factors have put extra pressure on the system this year. The first is the new admissions method, under which students apply to eight universities and aim to have two offers in hand when their results come out. Previously, they could apply separately to universities and polytechnics and hold four offers - two in each sector - giving more flexibility. Up to 20,000 students are likely to fall back on second offers and could be vulnerable to poaching.

In addition, universities have been warned by the Government that they could face penalties of up to pounds 2,800 per student if they exceed their target numbers by more than 1 per cent. Consequently, universities have been very cautious in making offers and more students than usual are expected to go into the clearing process through which they are matched up with spare places.

Among the newer universities, several admitted that they could lose students if others acted unscrupulously. Kay Coulson, admissions officer at the University of Derby, said students who wanted to go elsewhere would be 'counselled very carefully'. She added: 'They made an original choice of our university, and must have had a reason for doing that. At the end of the day you can't force them and it wouldn't be very productive to do so.'