Universities face hefty fines for over-recruitment

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The Independent Online

Universities recruited 25,000 extra students last summer, fuelling concern they face hefty fines from the Government.

The final statistics from UCAS, the university admissions body, for 2009 showed a record 481,854 students snapped up university places with the biggest percentage increase (8.4 per cent) coming from youngsters living in Britain’s most disadvantaged areas.

However, despite ministers welcoming the rise, it became clear the the figures will trigger fines of £3,700 per student for universities that have over-recruited.

Ministers budgeted for a 13,000 increase in student numbers for 2008/9.

“It is a bit rich of the government and HEFCE (the university funding body) to trumpet the success of record student numbers and then fine universities for being bold enough to carry out government policy to increase student numbers.

“The government needs to be brave enough top back its own policy to increase student numbers, to reverse planned cuts for universities and ensure we avoid another summer fiasco on the number of student places available.”

David Willetts, the Conservatives’ universities spokesman, added: “The government must not block the aspirations of potential university students. These figures show there is growing demand to study at university.

“Ministers have said they will fine universities almost £4,000 for every student that they over-recruited in 2009. We are in the absurd position that ministers are fining universities for moving towards the government’s own targets on student numbers and widening participation.”

The final figures show the biggest percentage point rise – 15.3 per cent – was amongst over 25-year-olds with 56,000 being awarded a place compared with 51,400 in 2008.

The numbers rejected also rose to a record level. In all, 640,000 people applied for a place.

Higher Education Minister David Lammy said: “I am particularly pleased that the figures show that acceptances for young people from areas that traditionally have some of the lowest participation rates have shown the largest proportional increase which clearly illustrates that we are raising aspirations and widening participation in our universities.”

A spokesman for HEFCE said the increase in student numbers were “broadly in line with the sector-wide control over student numbers” but that all universities had been sent a letter warning they may face a reduction in their grant next year if they have recruited students above the target number for their university.