Student Numbers In The UK: Why Accurate Predictions Are Important


It is not easy to predict student numbers, but it is crucial to be as accurate as possible. If you want your education system to be effective, it is important to have some idea of what you are facing in the future. There are forecasting strategies that can help with this.

In 1963, the Robbins report was based on forecasts. This report was very important to the country; it helped to create the mass university system. It didn’t really change anything as far as education went, but it simply determined that there would continue to be more and more students entering higher education following the war.

To determine numbers, the Robbins report examined birth data and the trends in school achievement. Members of the committee determined that within two decades, there would be more than twice as many full-time placements as there were at that time (they predicted a total of 558,000 students).

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Other Forecasting Attempts

During the next ten years, there were other forecasts as well. Those numbers were all over the place. For example, in 1971, the Department of Education and Science assumed there would be more than 830,000 students going to school full time by 1981. However, the next year, the White Paper said the number would be significantly less (about 750,000). When it all came down to it, it was the Robbins committee that was most accurate. In 1980, there were 535,000 students pursuing higher education.

While it is not easy to predict what will happen with student numbers, that doesn’t mean that people don’t try. The Department of Education and Science released two new sets of numbers in the 1980s. The first said that the number of people entering higher education would stay roughly the say. It stated that while there were a little more than 690,000 students in 1985, that number would drop to about 630,000 over the next fifteen years. The second said that there would be more people entering higher education, and in particular, it stated that the number of females would rise. Overall, it predicted that approximately 720,000 students would be in higher education at the end of the fifteen years. Both predictions were wrong and the numbers ultimately ended up being too low.

Forecasting Student Numbers Today

People still try to forecast student numbers today as well. We believe it is important to continue to look at the numbers and figure out what the future looks like. In the past, people that attempted to predict numbers looked at a variety of factors and took into account that things are always changing as time goes on.

The Office for Budget Responsibility is now in charge of releasing forecasts for student numbers. However, the numbers they release are not very accurate and do not look at other forecasts before arriving at a conclusion.

The Office for Budget Responsibility simply takes a look at current university admission numbers and the birth rate. It leaves out other important factors like aspiration levels, needs in the labour market, experience abroad and more. The Office for Budget Responsibility does not seem to feel that their data is lacking in any way, however, and they put out two forecasts during each calendar year.

In the spring of 2016, they said there would be nearly one million, one hundred and ninety thousand full-time students by the year 2020. However, in the time period that has followed, they have changed those numbers on three separate occasions. Their latest forecast is about one hundred and thirty thousand less than it originally was.

While The Robbins Report wasn’t perfect, their numbers were much more accurate than the OBR. As a result, I would like the OBR to seek advice from the sector on their methods, but as of yet, they have not done so.

This is an important issue. Student debt is a big part of the United Kingdom’s national debt. In addition, if the OBR is so off with student numbers, can we have confidence in any of their other numbers?

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