£2.5m fines over `extra' students

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Thirty-six universities or colleges are to be fined a total of £2.5m for recruiting too many students. The institutions - all in England - between them took 2,500 more applicants than spending targets allow. The overshoot is smaller than expected. Another 32 universities and colleges also over- expanded but are not liable to a forfeit from government funding because the numbers fell within upper limits.

The restrictions were announced last March by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. It warned that those recruiting more than 1 per cent above allocated numbers would be fined heavily. Vice-chancellors and principals said the move would lead to well-qualified students being turned away.

Professor Graeme Davies, council chief executive, praised universities and colleges for heeding the warning, saying: "Institutions have responded positively to the policy of consolidation and nearly hit the national targets in the Government's expenditure plans spot on. Admissions officers up and down the country are to be congratulated for the accuracy with which they managed their recruitment this year.''

According to the expenditure plans, the register of full-time undergraduates was expected to grow by 5.5 per cent. Latest returns show the growth rate is now about 4.7 per cent, from 701,000 to 734,000.

The council said the unnamed institutions' total fine would be about £2.5m, representing 0.1 per cent of the total the council will allocate for teaching in 1994-95. The cash will be redistributed within the system.

Labour's higher education spokesman, Bryan Davies, said yesterday: "There is no doubt that we will have lost many well-qualified students because of this system.''

The figures were revealed as hard evidence emerged of growing drop out rates. The council is preparing to issue next month maximum student numbers for 1995-96.

Precise numbers are not available, but Professor Davies said that while the number of entrants held up last year, the system as a whole was slightly under-recruited. People were breaking courses, probably for financial reasons.