Staff boost student roll-call

June 8, 2001

Luton University is planning to boost its flagging student numbers by enrolling its own staff onto courses.

Minutes from meetings of Luton's directorate, seen by The THES , reveal that the university is in danger of breaching its contract on student numbers with the Higher Education Funding Council for England. It has resolved to give "high priority" to a concerted effort to sign up staff as official Luton students.

The move, agreed in April, came shortly after the funding council confirmed financial penalties against Luton for failing to recruit enough students.

In one meeting, the directorate agreed that after disappointing reports on student numbers from the faculties, "it seemed likely that the university would need to recruit additional students during the summer semester in order to defend its Hefce contract".

One option, the directorate agreed, would be a concerted effort to provide "staff development for the university's own administrative staff".

The directorate also said that lecturers in local partner further education colleges could also be recruited for professional development.

At a later directorate meeting, at the end of April, it was confirmed:

"High priority is now to be given to recruiting the further 300 or so full-time equivalent students required to achieve the forecast number given in the higher education students early statistics (Heses) return."

This would be accomplished through "accredited staff development programmes" and providing courses to local college staff.

Universities make their Heses returns each December, giving student numbers for the academic year. The funding council uses the data to set its annual teaching funding allocation. They are then compared with end-of-year returns on student numbers. Differences between them can mean funding adjustments in following years.

Luton pro vice-chancellor Tim Boatswain admitted this week that the university was looking to recruit staff onto in-house professional development courses and to count them as students wherever possible.

But he insisted that Hefce was being consulted at all times to ensure the university did not breach funding rules.

He said there was no question of trying to boost Heses numbers artificially and that Hefce auditors had just given the university, and its student numbers returns, a clean bill of health.

Luton is planning about 60 redundancies as part of an exercise to save about £3 million. In March, Hefce confirmed it would claw back only £75,000 of the £3 million owed after a 10 per cent student recruitment shortfall.

Luton is discussing survival plans with Hefce, which ordered an action plan as a condition for the moderated clawback. Luton is planning to slash courses in traditional subject areas such as history and politics in favour of more popular vocational courses.

The minutes say that raising staff morale is "a major priority in the immediate future", after a vote of no confidence in vice-chancellor Dai John and two pro vice-chancellors.

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