Staff at troubled Thames Valley University are being consulted on course closures and redundancies as new figures reveal applications down by nearly a fifth.
Acting vice-chancellor Sir William Taylor published an internal consultation document last week effectively asking staff where the axe should fall.
The document coincided with the leaking of confidential Universities and Colleges Admissions Service figures that break down applications for all United Kingdom universities. Luton is the only university to have done worse than TVU, with a fall of 23 per cent. Most of the big losers are colleges of higher education.
The UCAS figures show that as of last Friday applications from UK and other European Union residents to degree courses at TVU were down by 17 per cent.
Non-EU degree applications were down by nearly 26 per cent with home applications to higher national diploma courses down by just over 30 per cent and overseas HND applications down by 47 per cent.
The figures will be cold comfort for staff at the institution, which was heavily criticised in a report by the Quality Assurance Agency published last November.
Vice-chancellor Mike Fitzgerald resigned when the report was published. TVU also faced a Pounds 3.8 million funding shortfall this year because of 30 per cent under-recruitment to courses starting last autumn.
Sir William said: "Where we are seriously under-recruiting, and after comparisons with national trends and where we feel the chance of improving that recruitment is not high, then these courses are at risk. The possibility of redundancies is there if we do close courses."
Sir William said some humanities courses had recruited poorly and could be at risk. But he added: "We are not planning to reduce the range of courses to the extent that we become a university nominally. There is no doubt that we would qualify for the title university."
Recruitment is healthy in areas in which TVU has been strong - high-tech music and multimedia, nursing (it is one of the country's largest providers of nursing training) and tourism.
"The consultation is for staff to come back to us with suggestions for economies or possibly for providing courses at a lower level," Sir William said.
TVU is not alone in suffering an applications shortfall. The UCAS figures, issued for planning purposes to universities and other institutions running higher education courses, show that as of last Friday total applications for degree and HND courses from the UK and overseas were down by 3.7 per cent on the same time last year.
Applications to pre-1992 universities were down by 3.1 per cent overall and by 3.7 per cent for post-1992 institutions. Higher education institutions and colleges that operate through UCAS saw their applications fall by 5.6 per cent overall.
The numbers of degree course applications were down by 3.4 per cent overall with those from UK and EU residents only down by 2.2 per cent overall.
Again there was little difference between the old and new university sectors in terms of degree applications from UK and EU residents.
Institutional table and analysis, pages 6 and 7 Title concerns, page 4