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

King's College, Cambridge: Stipendiary Junior Research Fellowships October 2016

£20,100 (pre-award of doctorate) rising each year to a maximum of £25,869: Kin...

Tradewind Recruitment: Speech and Language Teaching Assistant

£70 - £90 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Speech and Language Primary Teaching...

Tradewind Recruitment: Nursery Nurse

£70 - £90 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Are you a Qualified, Level 3, Nurser...

Tradewind Recruitment: Nursery Nurse

£70 - £90 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Are you looking for a new challenge ...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works