While some are adopting a “wait and see” approach towards the new, more competitive student recruitment system, others are looking to borrow money to improve the student experience and finance a growth in numbers.
Forty-seven per cent say now is a good time to take risk onto their balance sheets.
The Higher Education Finance Directors Survey reports that many of those surveyed said their universities needed to “invest considerably in order to maintain their competitive position”.
Another reason for this appetite for risk is the declining cost of credit, the report says.
One third of the 35 respondents said that their university’s level of financial risk had “increased somewhat” in the last year while 6 per cent responded that it had “increased significantly”, although half said that risk levels were the same.
Risk factors include an increase in a university’s ratio of debt to capital or “uncertainty” about the value of its assets.
Asked what areas of expenditure would increase or decrease, the majority of finance directors expected spending on hiring to shrink.
A majority also expected the amount of bank borrowing and bond issuance to grow.
The impact of the coalition’s tougher immigration rules is also being felt in the recruitment of international students, the survey suggests. Close to half of institutions said that changes in government policy had had a “somewhat” negative effect on their numbers from overseas in 2012-13.
Overall, more than nine in ten finance directors said that their institution faces an above average amount of uncertainty.
Julie Mercer, head of education consulting at Deloitte, said: “While uncertainty still remains, there are now signs of a shift. Expansion, and how to fund it, is now a big priority for higher education.”
She added: “Capital expenditure is needed to underpin the expansion of student numbers, support research, meet the demands of the 21st century learning environment and compete in an increasingly global higher education sector.”