Outsiders are moving into pole position

September 12, 2003

As UUK meets this week, Claire Sanders looks at 'non-aligned' institutions.

The power of "non-aligned" universities, those that sit firmly outside bodies such as the Coalition of Modern Universities and the Russell Group, is made clear in a new report written for vice-chancellors.

These 38 institutions - which include new establishments such as Manchester Metropolitan University and old ones such as City University - are good at access and many have strong research records.

"Sector performance depends on the heartland of the non-aligned, but the government - and sector - fixation on self-defined groups obscures this," writes Sir David Watson, chair of Universities UK's longer-term strategy group. "The self-defined groups do not define the sector."

Sir David is vice-chancellor of Brighton University, a non-aligned institution.

The report, Patterns of Higher Education Institutions in the UK, is the third of its kind from the strategy group. Presented at the UUK's residential meeting in Warwick this week, it focuses on differentiation - "the conscious identification of many higher education institutions with named groups". It describes the non-aligned as an "unheralded group".

"For the funding councils, it casts doubt on the wisdom of a strategy that seeks to typecast or constrain individual institutional missions according to prior assumptions about status," the report says.

It adds that there has also been a deteriorating funding situation. "In terms of financial security, all of the institutions of higher education share a general decline in financial security." This has led to a move towards what Sir David calls "self-help". For about 60 per cent of institutions, the funding councils are now minority stakeholders.

There are now 10 per cent fewer institutions than there were in 1994-95, despite a per cent rise in enrolments, or what Sir David describes as the "creeping rationalisation" of higher education.

The report gives the first picture of the growth of further education in higher education. One in 20 students in higher education institutions now studies at further-education level, compared with one in 50 seven years ago. "This is mainly due to mergers," says Sir David. "It shows that in some areas in the UK, we are moving towards a single tertiary sector."

With regard to access, the non-aligned have had a serious impact. Along with members of the CMU and the Standing Conference of Principals, the majority of them take more than a quarter of their students from lower socio-economic groups.

The Russell and 1994 groups have broadly similar profiles - none takes more than a quarter of its students from lower socioeconomic groups.

A comparison shows that the 1994 Group and the Russell Group share many features and that if certain universities, or "outliers", were removed from the Russell Group, there would be little to choose between them.

The report does not name individual institutions, but the "outliers" in this case are clearly Oxford, Cambridge, University College London and Imperial College London. This "internal differentiation" within the Russell Group is particularly marked when it comes to public funding of research.

Within the Russell Group, four institutions receive 40 per cent of the group's total income.

The past three years have seen a marked increase in the income received from UK industry and commerce by higher education institutions. The report says this has been achieved differentially, with the more successful universities increasing their income, and the percentage share of it, from this source.

All those in the Russell Group and a majority of those in the 1994 and non-aligned groups receive less than half their incomes from the funding councils.

Enrolment trends

The report provides a picture of university enrolments from 1994-95 to 2000-01.

It reveals a per cent increase over this period - 34 per cent at postgraduate and 25 per cent at undergraduate level. There has been a greater increase in the number of part-time students compared with full-timers.

The growth in international student numbers has been significantly greater than in home student numbers: UK student numbers rose by 25.37 per cent, European Union students by 43.91 per cent and international students by 38.68 per cent over the period.

Changes in enrolments in individual subject areas have been dramatic.

Enrolments in medicine and dentistry have increased by 24 per cent, slightly less than the average of per cent across all subjects.

The 131 per cent rise in the number of students following subjects allied to medicine is due largely to the shift of nursing courses to the higher education sector, but there have also been rises in enrolments in pharmacy (63 per cent), audiology (more than 600 per cent, but this is from a low base), ophthalmics (54 per cent) and medical technology (167 per cent).

There has been a 38 per cent increase in enrolments in biological sciences, but this conceals a fall in biology. This is accounted for largely by the rise in psychology and other biological sciences enrolments.

Within the physical sciences, chemistry has seen a reduction in student numbers of 16 per cent, physics 8 per cent and environmental sciences 10 per cent. Numbers of students in mathematical sciences have risen by 9 per cent, while numbers of those studying statistics have fallen 22 per cent.

There has been a 70 per cent rise in the number of students studying computer science. But enrolments in engineering and technology subjects have fallen by 7 per cent. Biotechnology has also seen a downward trend.

The report points to large rises in humanities enrolments in areas such as archaeology, the history of art, music and fine art.

It also highlights a mismatch with institutional provision: medicine, social work, mathematics and computing have seen a reduction in the number of institutions teaching the subject, alongside a rise in total student numbers.

On the other hand, teacher training, biology, building, environmental sciences and catering and institutional management have seen the converse - a reduction in the number of students alongside an increase in the number of providers.

"In the majority of subjects within this table, the number of providers appears to have increased while the number of students has either decreased or not increased in line with the average increase in overall students," the report says.

Sir David says: "Universities are operating in such narrow financial margins that they do not have room for manoeuvre."


Whose group are you in?

The report analyses the four main self-declared university groupings:

• The Coalition of Modern Universities
These 34 institutions account for 30 per cent of full-time-equivalent students and 19 per cent of the income received by the sector. Average size of institution is 13,000 FTEs (from 4,100 to 24,900) and average annual income is £72 million

• The 1994 Group
These 17 universities account for 9.5 per cent of FTEs and 11.5 per cent of the income received by the sector. Average size of institution is 8,200 FTEs (from 5,600 to 14,000) and average annual income is £91 million.
Two members are also in the Russell Group

• The Russell Group
These 19 universities account for 21 per cent of FTEs and 37 per cent of the income received by the sector. The average size of a Russell Group university is 16,200 FTEs (from 6,400 to 22,000) and average annual income is £260 million

• Standing Conference of Principals
These 34 non-university institutions account for roughly 7.5 per cent of FTEs and roughly 4.7 per cent of the income received by the sector (figures available for 31 of the institutions only). Average size of institution is 3,500 FTEs (from 400 to 9,000) and average annual income is £20 million

• The report does not do a similar analysis for the 38 non-aligned universities, but it says they share many common features and "generally lie between the Russell-1994 groupings and the CMU-Scop groupings on several of the indicators reported on within this paper".

• The non-aligned universities
Aberdeen; Aberystwyth; Aston; Bangor; Bournemouth; Bradford; Brighton; Brunel; City; De Montfort; Dundee; Heriot-Watt; Hertfordshire; Huddersfield; Hull; Keele; Kent; Lampeter; Leicester; Liverpool John Moores; Loughborough; Manchester Met; North East Wales Inst. of HE; Northumbria; Nottingham Trent; OU; Oxford Brookes; Portsmouth; Queen Mary, London; Queen's, Belfast; Salford; Stirling; Strathclyde; Swansea; Swansea Inst. of HE; Trinity College Carmarthen; UWE; Ulster.

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