Robust but not complacent

November 27, 2008

The Grant Thornton report states that Aston University could be vulnerable in the event of a downturn in overseas student income ("Lower interest from abroad would push seven into red", 20 November).

In fact, Aston's finances are extremely robust. Our surplus for 2007-08 was more than £3.6 million - well up from £95,000 in 2006-07. We would therefore be comfortably able to withstand a 10 per cent drop in overseas student income. Furthermore, we have been able to meet in full the impacts of the recent pay settlement, increased university pension fund contributions and soaring utility bills. We also have substantial financial reserves.

But we are not complacent. Overseas student recruitment is recognised as one of our top two university risks, with plans in place to address it. As a result, we have significantly widened our international recruitment base and reduced the proportion of overseas students we recruit from any one country. While we would expect the economic downturn to affect recruitment in some overseas markets, our international recruitment remains strong, and of course the fall in value of sterling against other currencies is working in favour of UK universities.

It is unfortunate that Times Higher Education has chosen to focus on just one of the financial pressures that the university sector is facing. At Aston, as in most organisations, we are looking at our revenue and cost streams to identify vulnerabilities, but we have no cause for concern. In a recession we believe that innovation and good risk management are the best way forward.

Julia King, Vice-chancellor, Aston University.

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