New universities have suffered a large drop in student numbers in the past five years, the extent of which is revealed by data published today by The Times Higher . In contrast, student numbers have grown at old universities.
Some 25 universities saw numbers contract between autumn 1998 and autumn 2003, while the remaining 100 institutions in the survey expanded, some by more than half.
The vice-chancellor of one new university hit by falling numbers warned that unfilled degree places would doom the government's plan to use foundation degrees to lift participation in higher education to 50 per cent.
The analysis is based on data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service that cover full-time home and international undergraduates.
Institutions hit by falling demand have responded by recruiting more part-time students and introducing a second start to the academic year in February; these students are not included in the data.
Hardest hit was Middlesex University, where the number of full-time undergraduates coming through Ucas almost halved over the five years. Its grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, announced last week, has been cut in response to falling numbers.
Michael Driscoll, the vice-chancellor, cited several factors as possible explanations. Almost half the university's students are mature - and many mature students were put off going to university when tuition fees were introduced and maintenance grants phased out in 1998.
Middlesex also specialises in computer science courses, which plummeted in popularity when the dotcom bubble burst. The vice-chancellor also blamed further education colleges that offered courses through the university for failing to attract students.
He said: "The latest figures show that applications are up, and it may well be that what we are seeing is the recovery taking place, but it's difficult to tell."
Professor Driscoll added: "As long as full-time degree places are available in universities and students are qualified to get on them, I cannot see why they would want to do foundation degrees.
"The problem with foundation degrees is that the only way the government could get people to go on them would be to restrict places on full-time degree courses. We will get people going on foundation degrees only when we have a situation where demand for three-year degrees outstrips supply."
Other institutions that recorded steep falls in student recruitment through Ucas include Luton University, down 45 per cent over five years; Sunderland University, down 30 per cent; and Thames Valley University, down per cent.
The two institutions that merged to become London Metropolitan University - the University of North London and London Guildhall University - recruited students for the present academic year separately through Ucas. They also saw numbers fall significantly over five years.
UNL recorded a 35 per cent fall over five years, although it appears to have turned the corner this year with a 0.5 per cent rise in enrolments.
But LGU recorded a 22 per cent fall over the same period.
At the other end of the scale, some old universities have expanded rapidly.
Kent University has upped its student intake through Ucas by more than 60 per cent in the past five years, including an 11 per cent rise in the past year. Nottingham University also increased its student intake by more than 60 per cent, despite registering a 1.9 per cent drop in enrolments in this academic year. Surrey University has expanded by more than half, including a 12 per cent rise this year.
The analysis included all universities and colleges of London University that took more than 1,000 students through Ucas in autumn 2003. The figures for Staffordshire University include students recruited through the university's regional federation.
Total full-time undergraduates
University of Wales Swansea
Goldsmiths College, London
University of Central England