Cambridge plans postgraduate growth to counter financial worries

University cites Brexit as factor causing financial uncertainty – but also as recruitment ‘opportunity’

July 12, 2017
Cambridge bikes
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The University of Cambridge is planning an expansion of postgraduate student numbers as the institution seeks to counter a “continuing deterioration” in financial outlook that it attributes partly to Brexit and higher education policy uncertainty.

Cambridge’s plans for “reviewing student number planning” were detailed in a statement to the university’s governing Regent House by Duncan Maskell, senior pro vice-chancellor for planning and resources, on the institution’s budget report.

That budget report on the 2017-18 year and beyond says that the university’s chest – its central funding for departments – “is forecast to remain in deficit over the planning period, although the position is anticipated to improve from a deficit of £21 million in 2017-18 to one of just under £6 million in 2020-21”.

However, Cambridge’s £2.6 billion endowment gives it a level of financial security rivalled only by the University of Oxford among UK institutions.

Professor Maskell said in his statement to the Regent House that the UK’s “forthcoming withdrawal from the European Union, changes in higher education governance and policy, and growth in our academic activities and capital estate plans” all “contribute to the financial pressures reflected in this budget report”.

Noting a “continuing deterioration” in the financial forecasts contained in the budget report, Professor Maskell said that this would necessitate “measured cost controls” and a drive to “raise new and additional income”, in remarks delivered on 27 June and published in the university’s official Reporter on 5 July.

He continued: “This will require, in part, a strategy to increase student fee income via growth in student numbers. The university, in collaboration with the colleges, is reviewing student number planning, taking into account the extent of capacity for growth now and in the future, and with a view to the long-term impact and opportunities that may arise as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.”

Cambridge has always declined any opportunity to grow its UK undergraduate numbers, despite the abolition of student number controls and invitations to do so by Lord Willetts in his time as universities and science minister.

Asked if Cambridge’s plans would examine the possibility of increasing UK undergraduate numbers, a university spokesman said: “No – growth will be in postgraduate numbers – regardless [of] where they come from.”

Asked to provide more detail on the reference to “opportunities” that may arise from Brexit, the spokesman said that these relate “to the need to engage with a recruitment strategy globally”.

At present, home and EU postgraduates are subject to the same fees at UK universities, lower than the levels of fees charged to non-EU postgraduates. But that would seem likely to change after Brexit, potentially opening up the opportunity to increase EU postgraduate and undergraduate income – subject to an immigration regime that allows such growth in recruitment.

Gill Evans, emeritus professor of medieval theology at Cambridge, said that “keeping the right balance between undergraduate and postgraduate student numbers” was important.

“There doesn’t seem to be much evidence that that’s been thought through in the present eagerness to bring the fees in,” she added. “This is, after all, a financial not an academic report which was being discussed.”

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