University debt soars

August 1, 1997

DEBT levels in higher education have risen by 75 per cent in three years, with the former polytechnics hit hardest, according to an annual financial guide.

Average total debt as a ratio of average total income is just over 23 per cent.

But this masks wide variations. Seventy-five institutions out of 158 have above-average debts and older former polytechnics have an average of almost 43 per cent.

The latest yearbook from Noble Financial Publishing, a division of the independent Edinburgh-based finance house Noble Group, says the total debt of all institutions had risen from its 1993 figure of Pounds 1,291 million to Pounds 2,269 million in 1996 - a rise of 75 per cent. Total income has risen by 50 per cent over the same period, while assets have risen by only 32 per cent, indicating the sector is increasingly reliant on debt.

About 20 institutions have a total debt of more than half of their income, with the University of Derby bearing the largest debt of 87.15 per cent of its income.

More than 92 per cent of institutions have given the yearbook information on their finances. Sir William Stubbs, chief executive and rector of the London Institute, writing the foreword, says the yearbook performs a valuable role in higher education management.

"To manage effectively, managers must have a thorough understanding of their own operation, its financial flows, the cost drivers and how income is generated. They will do even better if they gain some understanding of how things are done elsewhere and of the consequences, both financial and qualitative, of different approaches."

The University of Wales retains its place at the top of the table for endowment and interest income as a percentage of total income, with 12.08 per cent, ahead of Cambridge University, which is in second place with 10.65 per cent. But Cambridge's total endowments of Pounds 405 million substantially exceed those of Oxford, in second place with Pounds 293 million.

The School of Oriental and African Studies has the highest average staff costs of Pounds 33,603 per person, which the yearbook says is a "crude indicator" of average salaries. This pushes last year's leader, King's College London, into second place with Pounds 32,881, while Falmouth College of Arts has the lowest average staff costs of Pounds 13,4.

Noble's Higher Education Financial Yearbook 1997, Pounds 195 (Pounds 170 to higher education institutions) is available from Noble Financial Publishing, 76 George Street, Edinburgh.

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