government’s new higher education policies could cut student places in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and create extra places in cheaper arts and humanities disciplines, vice-chancellors have warned.

A number of senior sector figures are concerned that the core-margin system, unveiled in the government’s higher education White Paper, will deduct places from high-cost STEM subjects and allocate them to cheaper institutions more likely to offer lower-cost arts and humanities places.

Critics also argue that the proportion of AAB students is higher in arts and humanities subjects, creating a further incentive to weight provision towards those disciplines under the new market for elite students.

Some vice-chancellors raised the issue with Prime Minister David Cameron during a meeting at 10 Downing Street last month.

Under the system, universities will lose an average of 8 per cent of their student places, creating a 20,000-strong margin to be auctioned off to institutions – including further education colleges – that offer average fees of less than £7,500.

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