Universities get record fines for recruiting too many students

Institutions set for £90m penalties as student applicants rush to avoid £9,000 fees next year

Universities have suffered record fines for over-recruiting students last September, as applicants rushed to avoid tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year.

Between 20 and 25 universities have been fined by the Government's Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce). Next year the penalty for every unauthorised extra student will triple to around £10,000 a year, reflecting the fees rise.

One estimate suggests that universities recruited 25,000 students above their target numbers – which could lead to fines totalling more than £90m.

Yesterday it emerged that London Metropolitan University had been fined £5.9m for recruiting 1,550 students above the Government's target figure. Last year, the total fines for over-recruitment across the country amounted to only £8.5m.

Some universities deliberately over-recruited this year despite a clear warning from Universities Secretary David Willetts that they would be fined £3,700 for every student above the target figure.

The universities believed that the financial penalty would gradually be lessened by students dropping out, and that over-recruitment would make it easier to balance the books once fees rise and the number of applicants falls.

Professor Malcolm Gillies, vice-chancellor of London Met, argued in an email to staff that the impact of the fine was not as severe as it first appeared. He pointed out that the university received £3,000 from the Government to cover each extra student's fees, meaning that the hefty fine was reduced to just £700,000.

However, he acknowledged that the university's planning assumptions had been "flawed and our decision-making sometimes based on incomplete information". Part of the problem was the recruitment of too many students through clearing – a problem it shared with other universities.

"In consequence of the volatility of admissions for 2011-12 during clearing many English universities over-recruited," he added. London Met exceeded its target of 4,873 by 1,550.

Ministers have warned Hefce to crack down even harder on over-recruitment this year. In a letter to its chairman, Tim Melville-Ross, Mr Willetts said: "With the progressive implementation of our funding reforms, the costs of over-recruitment rise, significantly. As a result, the grant adjustments which we will authorise you to make for over-recruitment will increase accordingly."

He added that the new level of fines would include "avoiding unanticipated pressures on government budgets, removing any financial incentives for institutions to recruit above their permitted level, recognising the different fees charged by institutions and recouping an element to cover the cost of maintenance support."

Thus an institution charging £9,000 for all courses is likely to face a fine of around £10,000 per student next year, while one keeping fees below £7,500 would face a penalty of around £8,000.

The rigid controls on student numbers imposed by élite institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge mean they are never likely to face a fine. It is the newer universities – including many of the former polytechnics – and middle-ranking institutions that are likely to bear the brunt.

Hefce refused to comment on the penalties. Last September saw an unprecedented number of applications for university places as would-be students sought to beat the fees rise. Around 170,000 did not obtain a university place.

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Reception Teacher - Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates of pay : Randstad Education Gro...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam