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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Nurse and Room Leader - Hackney

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a qualified childcare p...

QAA: Independent member of the QAA Board of Directors

Expenses paid in connection with duties: QAA: QAA is inviting applications to ...

AER Teachers: PPA TEACHER/MENTOR

£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: THE SCHOOL: This is a large and vibra...

AER Teachers: EYFS Teacher

£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: EYFS TEACHERAn 'Outstanding' Primary ...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones