Sheffield scores AA minus

June 7, 2002

Sheffield University has become the fifth British university to publish its credit rating. Its AA minus rating puts it on a par with NatWest Bank, Reuters and Abbey National, and above Boots, BT and Sainsbury.

Many UK universities are following the example of American universities, all of which have credit ratings in order to raise private funds more easily.

"As the grant from the funding council shrinks and as universities are still expected to expand and widen participation, then they are increasingly forced to go to other sources of funding," said Nick Preston, press officer for Standard and Poors, the international credit rating agency used by Sheffield.

David Bearpark, Sheffield's director of finance, said: "Financially, an excellent credit rating like this will help us to achieve lower interest rates on any future borrowing, speed up the process of obtaining such funds and widen the range of sources from which they can be obtained."

King's College London and Nottingham University have ratings of AA minus, Lancaster University has a rating of A minus and Greenwich BBB minus.

Mr Preston said: "All these universities come above the investment grade cut-off. We believe that there are universities that come in the sub-investment level - a university that relied 100 per cent on clearing for its students, for example."

He said another couple of universities had asked Standard and Poor to rate them, but had not made the results public. Another two analyses will be completed in the next two months.

Standard and Poors' credit analyst Myriam Fernandez de Heredia said: "The rating reflects Sheffield University's broad course range, high academic standards, and strong and growing reputation, which together ensure high enrolment demand."

She said that the university was expected to improve its strong research base, had a pro-active management team and a rapidly declining debt burden.

A spokesman for King's College said: "Our strong credit rating has strengthened our ability to borrow long term at attractive rates. The whole university sector is mindful of the need to diversify funding."

Baroness Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "Raising private capital at the right rate is an increasingly important part of university management. However, this does not replace the urgent need for substantial public investment in our higher education institutions, as the sector cannot continue to expand and diversify its activities and meet the additional costs generated within current resources."

* Colleges and universities are having to write off debts worth up to four lecturers' salaries each, according to a study from a firm of solicitors called in to make debt-recovery systems more effective.

Michael Frisby, commercial litigation partner at Stevens and Bolton, said:

"The education sector is faced with a large number of debtors with small debts. These debts can be very costly to pursue. We are developing efficient systems that bear in mind we are pursuing students whose cases may need to be handled sensitively."

Tony Tanner, finance manager at Guildford College, which has employed Stevens and Bolton, said: "It is not unusual for colleges similar to ours to write off between £80,000 and £100,000 worth of debt per year (the equivalent to three or four teachers). If I have to write off 2 per cent of that, I am disappointed."

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