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
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Administration Assistant / Apprenticeship Industry

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity for an e...

Recruitment Genius: NVQ Assessor

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Private Training Provider off...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own