Bradford blames ‘market-driven’ woes for £12 million deficit

University hit by declining student numbers returns multimillion-pound deficit for third year in row

December 12, 2018
Bradford, statue, town hall

The University of Bradford’s deficit rose to £11.7 million last year, following on from deficits of £3.4 million and £1.9 million in the previous two years, with the institution highlighting the “market-driven and increasingly competitive” English sector as a factor.

Concern has been growing over the financial health of a number of English institutions, particularly those that have lost large numbers of students since the government abolished number controls in favour of unrestricted recruitment in 2015, and those with significant numbers of part-time students.

Bradford, whose vice-chancellor Brian Cantor announced in September that he would step down at the end of the academic year, published its 2017-18 financial statements on 5 December.

“There is increased competition across the whole higher education sector for a reducing number of UK students as the demographic decline of 18-year-olds in the population continues,” the document says. “The impact of this is demonstrated in our financial performance.”

Income from home and international students remained “static” in 2017-18. But the university’s “core student income…has decreased by 1.7 per cent, primarily due to a reduction in part-time funded students”, the statements add. Part-time student numbers have fallen dramatically nationwide, particularly since fees were trebled and a loans-based system was introduced in 2012.

Although Bradford’s deficit of £11.7 million is the headline result that will be reported to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the statements say that adjusting for “actuarial valuation movements, and significant non-recurrent transactions, the university’s consolidated results show an improved underlying operating result, with a £1.2 million loss compared to £4.1 million in 2016-17”.

Bradford is in the top 10 of English universities with the largest drops in student recruitment between 2010 and 2017. Critics of the government’s decision to abolish student number controls argue that the policy is widening regional inequality, as universities in towns and cities with struggling economies are among those seeing the biggest declines in recruitment.

A Bradford spokeswoman said: “The HE sector has become market-driven and increasingly competitive. There are many factors involved, including the abolition of the student number cap, the consumerisation of applicant choice and student perceptions, changes in how and when applicants make choices, national and local demographic factors, and international trends.”

The spokeswoman said that “in order to remain financially viable and sustainable, we, along with other institutions, will continue to innovate, evolve and reshape internally”.

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Reader's comments (1)

The deteriorating situation at Bradford University sits alongside a similar catalogue of under-performance at Bradford College. Meanwhile the desperate position of Bradford as a city and community remain largely unaddressed by these 2 institutions, which should be anchor institutions as far as socio-economic development is concerned. Both institutions should re-define themselves in terms of Bradford's needs. There are current and positive examples out there: the contributions of UCLan and Preston's College to marked improvement in Preston for example. Even Bolton University (ironically the College's validator) has demonstrated a local commitment to structural collaboration. The think-tank, WAW Consulting, provided a blueprint, a Bradford Plan, for merger in 2017 for the College, which was shared presumably with the University. The FE Commission and Hefce were aware of the intellectual arguments and modelling. Bradford's politicians should step in. along with the FE Commission and the Office for Students. There is a clear agenda beyond institutional recovery and which could see the college and University thrive as a combined institution. Professor Bill Wardle