British HE on brink of new era?

Nieuws | de redactie
3 mei 2013 | The number of students in the UK that already submitted their application is still lower than before the dramatic rise in tuition fees. Several universities might be in serious trouble, but for the first time ever, the figures per institute are not published. Is a new era for British higher education looming?

The number of students that already submitted their application is 2.5 percent higher than last year. However, they are still lower than before the steep rise in tuition fees, figures from the university entrance administrator Ucas show. While the number of British students is suffering from the higher costs of education, the number of non-EU students has steadily increased in the last years.

Big differences per country

The number of students from other EU-countries has dropped with almost 3 percent compared to 2010. The reason might be that EU-students have to pay the same fees as British students. Tuition fees in the UK are now 9000 pounds (10600 Euro) per year, a figure far higher than in many continental European countries.

The number of applications also varies greatly within the UK. The number of English students has dropped with more than 7 percent while the numbers for Northern Ireland have increased with 5.3 percent. Although it has to be taken into consideration that the number of students also drops due to demographic changes, there are less 18-year-olds living in Great Britain than last year.

In 2011, the last year with relatively low tuition fees, the number was artificially driven up by thousands of school-leavers that applied to higher education instead of postponing their application with a year or more. That year less than 10000 students chose to defer a place instead of the 23000 that had done it the year before.

Hidden figures

Also some more political reasons can be found these regional differences. Scottish students that study in Scotland, for example, do not have to pay tuition fees at all. However, it’s hard to get a clear insight in the regional differences since the Ucas, for the first time ever, refuses to publish the application numbers per institute. Therefore nobody knows what institutes are struggling with dropping student numbers.

However, there are some insightful numbers from last year. The London Metropolitan University was hit the hardest with a drop of 43 percent compared with 2011. Other universities that were hit hard include the university of Bolton (-25%), Leeds Metropolitan University (-23%) and the University of East London (-20%).

Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of Ucas, said to the Guardian: “Ucas’ decision not to publish institutional-level data in the middle of the live cycle reflects our concerns that such information could be over-interpreted both by institutions and applicants and give rise to unintended market effects.”

Universities in trouble

Although the number of English students dropped severely and some universities might be in severe trouble, Minister of Universities David Gillets called the figures promising. “The rise in applications indicates that potential students understand how the new student finance system works. They do not have to pay fees upfront, there is more financial support for poorer families, and loan repayments will be lower for everyone once they start earning.”

The universities are slightly less optimistic since these circumstances might force them to reform deeply. Some large mergers in British higher education are expected, although mainly by education consultants. Universities might also choose to sell key assets like business schools in order to compensate the lost income from tuition fees might also be a trend for the coming years.

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