Low numbers of undergraduates could cause universities to lose up to £80 million
The number of undergraduates has dropped in a third of the Russell Group universities , says its Director General, Wendy Piatt.
Dr Piatt, talking on a BBC Radio 4 documentary, said that this shortfall could cost Russell Group universities around £80 million.
The documentary, Universities Challenged, was broadcast last week and looked at the effects of the government’s reforms to university fees and funding.
Dr Piatt said: “Having far fewer students than planned does create a real financial hit.
“It’s hard to give a very accurate number, but across the Russell Group it may amount to something like £80 million. We’re not clear [on the final total] at the moment, but it’s a significant amount of money.”
The government’s reforms allowing unlimited recruitment of undergraduates with A-Level grades of AAB or above have in part contributed to the struggle several universities have faced this year in meeting their target student recruitment.
The University and College Union general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “The fall in the number of undergraduates is the predictable failure of the government’s attempt to create an artificial market for the most highly-qualified students.
“Furthermore, the government’s admission that higher tuition fees forced a scramble for places last year highlights the unfair nature of this government’s hike in fees,” she said.
Ms Hunt went on to explain: “While many predicted allowing universities to recruit as many students as they could with A-level grades of AAB and above would be a problem for institutions outside the Russell Group, we now see the damage done to our higher education system by this ill-thought out policy is more widespread.
When asked whether the University of Manchester had felt the impact of a lower number of undergraduates, President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell said: “We will not know the final numbers until the official census date in December, but we will be below our target for home (UK and EU) students.”
“We knew that this year admission of home students would be challenging, with the new few regime and the cap removed on students who obtained grades of AAB or above, and this was confounded by the first fall in 20 years in A level grades achieved,” Professor Rothwell added.
“We will be looking closely at the distribution of our student numbers and are initiating a detailed ‘portfolio review’ to consider student demand and how we respond to this.”