Sector forced to play wild variations on a recruitment theme

Ucas data demonstrate wide-ranging impact of fees and funding changes. John Morgan reports

January 24, 2013

Source: Getty

Twists and turns: the revolutionary nature of the government’s policies has affected old and new alike

Some post-1992 universities appear to have been hit by a huge collapse in student demand under the new fees and funding system, while half of the Russell Group’s English members have also lost undergraduate numbers.

Data released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service on 18 January reveal the full extent of shortfalls in undergraduate numbers by institution, showing that the government’s reforms have produced often wild variations in recruitment.

The figures relate to acceptances, meaning actual enrolments could be different. They also include overseas students who applied via Ucas. However, the data do not include students who applied directly (via access courses, for example).

Some in the sector suggest that declining post-1992 university figures indicate that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are most likely to decide against higher education with higher fees.

London Metropolitan University (down 43 per cent from 2011-12 - see story right) and the University of Bolton (down 25 per cent) experienced sharp falls after over-recruiting the previous year.

Meanwhile, the University of Greenwich, whose intake dropped by 23 per cent, is pursuing a policy to raise its undergraduate entry requirements to establish a reputation for quality, and appears to have sacrificed student numbers for greater prestige.

A spokesman for the institution said it had raised its average Ucas tariff entry score by 24 points, so the fall in recruitment partly reflected this “positive strategic decision”. However, the institution’s missing 1,189 students would amount to £29.6 million in lost income over three-year courses if they were charged Greenwich’s home fee of £8,300 a year.

Paul Smith, deputy vice-chancellor for strategic development at Leeds Metropolitan University (down 23 per cent), said that the institution had “made fewer offers … to offset the previous year’s exceptional numbers and to ensure that, moving forward, we would be within our student number control allocation”.

He added that Leeds Met, which, by opting to charge £8,500 fees chose not to claw back numbers through the government’s core-and-margin system, finished just 123 students short of its recruitment target.

The post-1992s that increased their intake appear to be largely drawn from those that won places under the margin system, which reallocates places to cheaper institutions.

Elite effects

Of the 20 English members of the Russell Group, the intake at 10 has declined.

A spokesman for the University of Leeds (down 6 per cent) said: “We prioritised the quality of our student intake, and did not lower entry requirements in clearing as other institutions have reportedly done.”

The University of Bristol was the group’s biggest winner, with an extra 1,029 entrants overall. It used the coalition’s policy of lifting the cap on students with A-level grades of AAB or above (or the equivalent) to expand its home and European Union intake by around 600.

David Alder, Bristol’s director of communications and marketing, said it had been “very public” about its expansion drive from an early stage.

Paul Charlton, president of the University of Bristol Students’ Union, supported the rise, but added that it could have been “better thought out” in a few areas. He noted a short-lived episode in which about 30 students were temporarily housed in university accommodation 20 minutes’ drive from their lectures.

University College London increased its intake by 780 students overall, but most were overseas undergraduates plus those at the School of Pharmacy, which merged with UCL last year.

The biggest increase in percentage terms in the UK was seen at Birkbeck, University of London (130 per cent), after the institution, which mainly focuses on part-time students, sharply increased its full-time intake from a relatively low base.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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