Cuts looming as students fail to sign up

February 2, 2001

Government efforts to expand higher education look set to fail as supply continues to outstrip demand, vice-chancellors have warned.

Universities face financial penalties for failing to meet recruitment targets. According to a Higher Education Funding Council for England insider, money will be clawed back from under-recruiters in this month's funding round.

The University of Lincolnshire and Humberside has decided to close its Hull campus and retreat to Lincoln, renaming itself in the process. Vice-chancellor David Chiddick admitted that the collapsing student market has fuelled the move. "This is not just about moving the furniture. It no longer makes sense to compete head-on with the University of Hull," he said.

Luton University vice-chancellor Dai John, who faces a £3 million clawback of funds after under-recruiting by 10 per cent this year, has told his staff that unless the government changes its policy of aiming for 50 per cent participation, the "gap between supply and demand will only widen".

Hefce made 19,500 additional places available in 2000-01, although early indications show that only 6,000 have been taken up. Another 12,500 will be added for 2001-02, and an extra 28,500 full-time equivalent places are projected for 2002-03 and 2003-04.

Some institutions are believed to have lost students to more prestigious universities. As a result, their core grants will be slashed, a Hefce board meeting decided this week.

Colin Bell, vice-chancellor of the University of Bradford, said: "There was upward migration in the market. Powerful institutions made their numbers; some only just. Others, therefore, must have missed their targets."

Concerned vice-chancellors meeting this week in Manchester criticised funding council attempts to increase the maximum number of students each college or university could recruit. The funding council had announced in August that institutions could recruit up to 4 per cent more students than had been agreed without facing financial penalties.

Sir Brian Fender, Hefce chief executive, told the gathering: "I think we were wrong (in increasing the flexibility of the maximum student number). It has had little or no effect. The expansion of higher education can only partially be driven by the government: mainly it is driven by the students."

Leslie Wagner, vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University, said that universities needed to know whether they would be allocated places for foundation degrees. He hinted that these would be unfilled next spring.

"The market clearly is not flooded with students clamouring for (foundation degree) places," Sir Brian admitted.

But the funding council could not allocate the extra places until June when it knew how much money it had, he added.

Dr John said: "Of the full-time places allocated to English universities, about 70 per cent went to pre-1992 institutions. That is likely to be repeated if expansion is to continue."

Geoffrey Copland, vice-chancellor of Westminster University and head of the Coalition of Modern Universities, said: "There is change in the air, but it is difficult to read what is happening. Expansion plans are against a background of high employment. There is little doubt that some people contemplating higher education are also contemplating going straight into work."

A spokeswoman for Universities UK said it was too early to comment.

  • University move shakes Hull

More than 3,000 full-time and 1,000 part-time students and 650 staff will be affected by Lincolnshire and Humberside University's closure of its Hull campus.

Vice-chancellor David Chiddick is applying to the Privy Council to change the institution's name to the University of Lincoln. He said the identity of the university was "confused and unattractive" to students. Patrick Doyle, leader of Hull city council, said the 50-mile move could have a profound impact on employment and on the city as a whole.

Recruitment has fallen by 30 per cent in six years, from about 10,000 students to an expected 6,600 in 2001-02. The largest drops have been in business, engineering and applied social sciences, courses also offered by Hull.

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