Cut-throat A-level season ‘pushing some universities towards insolvency’

Some universities may be pushed to the brink of insolvency after the most cut-throat A-level student recruitment round vice-chancellors can remember, experts are warning. The Guardian reports. 

The removal of the cap on the number of students universities can recruit, combined with a demographic fall in the number of 18-year-olds, has created a fierce new market in higher education. Prestigious universities are sucking up students who might previously have chosen mid-ranking institutions. The knock-on effect is leaving some universities without enough students – and their £9,250 fees.

Some report a frenzy of “mystery shopping”, especially in the first two hours of A-level results day, with university staff posing as parents or students on the phone to work out what competitors were really offering. As one vice-chancellor explains: “You then adjust your own offers accordingly. If a rival university sucks up 50 students by making lower offers you’ve lost those students. So there is a race to the bottom.”

The vice-chancellor of a modern civic university, who asked not to be named, agrees: “We are heading for a car crash. I would say there are five or six universities who will run out of cash in two years’ time.” This is because “competition has been absolutely cut-throat. There are institutions at the bottom who can’t recruit enough students, so they drop their grades and let in students who can’t cope with the course and will drop out after one or two years. It’s just a slow death.”

The pressure isn’t only felt at the bottom end of the sector. Universities of all types agree that there has been unprecedented behind-the-scenes dealing this year on the grades they will accept.

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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