Senior academics at a post-92 university are being offered cash rewards potentially worth thousands of pounds if their courses meet or exceed recruitment targets.
The University of Bolton’s student recruitment incentive scheme was described as “just wrong” by the University and College Union, which is concerned about the impact of monetary inducements on the admissions process.
Details of the initiative, seen by Times Higher Education, reveal that leaders of undergraduate courses that recruited 15 or more students last year will be eligible for a reward of £1,000 if they match the 2015 figure this autumn. For courses that signed up fewer than 15 students in September, the target is to hit 15 for the first time.
Then, for each additional student beyond the threshold, programme leaders will receive an additional £200, in the case of full-time students, and £100 for part-time students.
A similar scheme will operate for postgraduate courses, but with a baseline threshold of 10, not 15.
Further incentives are on offer to leaders of courses that reached what Bolton terms “platinum” status in 2015: 40 or more students in the case of undergraduate programmes, and 20 or more for postgraduate courses. Leaders who achieve platinum status again in 2016 will receive a £2,000 payment, plus £200 per additional student.
In all cases, programme leaders will be eligible to share half their total bonus with other academics “who have been directly responsible…for the increase in student numbers”.
Bolton also plans to recognise all the academics working on the programme with the most improved recruitment year-on-year by giving each of them an iPad.
Martyn Moss, a regional official for the UCU, said that the Bolton scheme would be illegal in the US. He questioned what the focus on academic employees said about the university’s faith in admissions teams.
“We are unhappy with the idea of staff being given blatant financial incentives to help bring in more numbers; this is just wrong,” Mr Moss said. “We would rather student recruitment is based on students and courses finding a match that ultimately suits them best.
“We also have faith in professional recruitment staff being best placed to do this.”
According to Ucas figures, Bolton recruited 1,630 undergraduates after the uncapping of student numbers in 2015, up 140 per cent compared with a decade before but below 2011’s high of 1,685.
Spending at the university hit the headlines last year when it paid about £100,000 to take all 700 of its staff for an overnight stay in the Lake District to attend a staff development programme hosted by George Holmes, the vice-chancellor.
A Bolton spokesman said: “The university is piloting innovative ways, both financial and non-financial, to reward staff that are actively engaged with student recruitment in excess of agreed targets. These arrangements are over and above normal pay arrangements.”