News round-up: universities face an uncertain financial future

Vice-chancellors have been sharing their concerns that some universities may face insolvency, while Robert Halfon MP says too many students are studying academic degrees


Opportunity and risk: universities prepare for an uncertain future

The Guardian, 07/02/2018, Harriet Swain

Research with vice-chancellors by the Guardian shows some hope amongst the gloom about Brexit, funding changes and the fallout from controversies like senior managers’ pay.


Many graduates earn ‘paltry returns’ for their degree

BBC News online, 05/02/2018, Hannah Richardson

Many graduates receive ‘paltry returns’ for their degrees despite racking up £50,000 in debt, says the chairman of the Education Select Committee.

Robert Halfon will say in a speech on Monday that between a fifth and a third of graduates take non-graduate jobs, and that any extra returns for having a degree ‘vary wildly’. He will also suggest that too many people are studying academic degrees. University leaders maintain that a degree remains an excellent investment.

His comments come as the latest UCAS figures show a small drop in the number of people applying to higher education in the UK. Last year 559,030 people, including foreign students, applied to UK universities. This is the lowest number since 2014. A breakdown shows that there were 12,420 fewer UK applicants, a 2.6% drop compared with last year. It is the second annual drop in a row.


UK universities report rise in applications from EU students

The Guardian, 05/02/2018, Richard Adams

A last-minute rush to study at British universities before Brexit closes the door may be behind a rise in applications from EU students, according to the latest figures for courses starting in the autumn. The rise in international applications, including a record number from students outside the EU, helped disguise modest domestic figures showing a 3% fall in applications, the second successive decline following a 4% drop last year.

University admissions officers said the government’s guarantee for EU students starting in 2018 was viewed by some as a last chance to study in the UK on the same terms as UK students for the duration of their degree.

The figures from Ucas, the applications clearing house, show that 43,500 EU students applied for places as undergraduates, a 3% rise from the same point in 2017 and the second highest number recorded, reversing last year’s sharp fall.

Fears that Brexit could harm applications from outside the EU were also allayed, with the Ucas data showing a rising number of applications from countries such as China and India.


‘A policy change away from collapse’: universities’ fears for 2018

The Guardian, 01/02/2018, Rachel Hall

New research sheds light on the different fortunes facing UK universities, as some find themselves on the brink of insolvency.


Prioritise students or face more regulation, says ex-Ucas head

Times Higher Education, 01/02/2018, Sophie Inge

UK universities risk being subjected to further government control and regulation if they do not prioritise teaching quality and embrace initiatives such as two-year degrees, a former Ucas chief executive has warned. Addressing the annual meeting of the Council for the Defence of British Universities, Mary Curnock Cook said that although many attendees would regard universities ‘primarily as places for research’, for the ‘man on the street’ nowadays they were places of ‘mass higher education’.

The article notes that the speech provoked a lively response from audience members. One, Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at the University of Oxford, told Times Higher Education that Ms Curnock Cook was labouring under a ‘terrific misapprehension’ if she thought that people in the room did not care about students.


Vice-chancellors fearful about financial outlook for UK higher education

The Guardian, 31/01/2018, Richard Adams and Rachel Hall

Vice-chancellors are increasingly fearful about the financial outlook for UK higher education, after a survey of university leaders found many worried that ‘febrile’ cuts in tuition fees could push some institutions towards insolvency. While a majority of universities said they were financially stable, many of the leaders surveyed said even relatively small cuts in fees would cause severe problems for several institutions.

The confidential survey comes as the government has confirmed its desire for a major review of higher education funding in England, following a cabinet reshuffle that saw Justine Greening deposed as education secretary because of her opposition to a review.

Theresa May is said to favour allowing universities to charge variable fees – above or below the current £9,250 per year – based on graduates’ income, but opinion inside the government remains split over how to impose the policy. Four out of five people surveyed disagreed with variable fees based on graduate earnings, while two out of three said they opposed making some universities charge less than others.