Although estimates were already predicting that university student numbers in the United Kingdom would decline after steep fee hikes went into effect this year, according to vice-chancellors of a number of universities, the actual fall was even steeper than expected by the most pessimistic of assessments. Official predictions were actually 9% higher than the real student enrollment numbers.
According to Universities UK, the declines mean that universities around the country are now likely to struggle financially while they figured out a way to cope with reduced student numbers. This could lead to the whole of Britain’s higher education system losing a “hard-won global competitive advantage” if the government doesn’t take steps to financially protect the floundering schools.
The comments come after figures showed a rise in the number of British students opting to take courses at high-ranking universities in the United States.
Data obtained by the Telegraph showed that entry rates had increased at a number of leading institutions including Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Chicago and Michigan.
The rise coincided with a drop in the number of students recruited by universities in the UK. The number of school leavers admitted across the UK in 2012 dropped by 5.7 per cent, while admissions among mature students – those aged 21 and over – were down by 9.2 per cent.
The fall in students numbers in England was particularly sharp because of fees hike that saw tuition go as high as £9,000 per year, which is almost a 300% increase over the previous maximum. The new tuition scheme makes England the most expensive place to enroll in university in Britain. In total, English universities lost around 28,000 students.
It isn’t just British students who are increasingly looking elsewhere for their higher education needs. The same report also found that the number of entrants from out of the country – especially from India, Pakistan and Nigeria – fell as well.
Universities UK also warned that higher tuition is having an impact on university recruitment of students to its post-graduate as well as its undergraduate programs.
Prof Eric Thomas, UUK president and vice-chancellor of Bristol University, said there was evidence that the higher education system was being “constrained in terms of its ability to expand in a sustainable manner in the medium term”.
“This has long-term implications for the UK’s skilled workforce, productivity, and economic growth,” he said.
“Factors constraining the ability of universities to expand undergraduate and postgraduate provision will inhibit the future economic potential and competitiveness of the UK. These constraints must be overcome if the UK is to retain its hard-won global competitive advantage.”