Universities in pounds 13m drive to recruit students

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Universities will spend at least pounds 13m on advertising their courses in the next year - enough to save more than 500 of the 3,000 jobs which are likely to be lost this year because of government spending cuts.

New research shows that although there will be a drop from last year's all-time high of pounds 14m, many universities and colleges will still rely heavily on advertising to fill their courses after the A level results are published this month.

Because funding follows each student, it is crucial for universities to keep numbers up even if they are having to cut staff jobs at the same time.

Many new universities cannot fill all their places through the conventional entrance system and rely on the clearing system to find students who have not been accepted into the course of their choice.

Last night, university lecturers' leaders condemned the competition that has developed in higher education and predicted that 8,000 jobs would be lost in the next three years.

Universities have suffered a 5 per cent overall cut in budgets this year and will face a 50 per cent drop in capital funding over the next three years. Among those which expect to lose most of staff are Aston, which has announced 130 voluntary redundancies, and Sheffield, which is looking for 250.

David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said universities faced the dilemma of cutting marketing budgets and losing students, or keeping them up and being forced to cut staff.

"The idea of a system which is as crudely competitive between institutions as ours is absurd. What we need is co-operation, not cut-throat competition," he said.

Jonathan Reay, spokesman for Riley Research, which compiled the report on last year's admissions process, said that although pounds 5m of the pounds 14m spent in 1995 had been during clearing, more universities were now spreading their efforts throughout the year. "I think there has been a definite squeeze on marketing budgets as a result of the cuts. But it is now very clear to everybody in the sector that if you don't get the students you don't get the funding. If you don't get the funding you can't keep the jobs and you are in a downward spiral."

Last year, the University of Central England was only new university which did not advertise in the national press during the month-long clearing process. Its pro-vice-chancellor, David Warner, said: "My view is that every pound I spend on marketing is a pound not spent on teaching and learning. One should look extremely carefully at every aspect of it," he said.

The top advertisers in 1995 were: De Montfort, pounds 223,608; Luton, pounds 192,230; Huddersfield, pounds 162,758; Greenwich, pounds 101,734; and Sheffield Hallam, pounds 90,935.