Up to 30 HE institutions 'could fail' if falling student demand continues


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The Independent Online

Dozens of higher education institutions are at risk of closure in the next few years, university leaders have warned.

Several university leaders predicted in survey that 'as many as 20 to 30 current higher education institutions could become unviable if student demand continues to fall'.

Over half of the leaders questioned were concerned by falling numbers of undergraduate students, and over 90 per cent were worried by decreasing numbers of UK and EU postgraduates.

Increased competition among universities for students, at a time of falling demand, is the 'major force' for the changes, the fifth annual PA higher education survey claims.

Under major government reforms, higher education fees have tripled, with universities now permitted to charge up to £9,000 a year.

Student dissatisfaction with the university system has risen in the past year, demonstrated by a number of university administrations being placed under pressure by their student bodies.

The most recent example, at Warwick University, protested the widespread cuts and austerity measures faced by students at higher education institutions, where lack of funding has resulted in curtailed student hours and academic availability.

Nine out of ten of the 60 university leaders surveyed placed improving the student experience among their top three priorities. 80 per cent recognising that 'access to and time with teaching staff' was the most important aspect of the student experience.

Despite this recognition, the National Student Survey has ranked student satisfaction with access to academic teaching staff as consistently amongst the lowest satisfaction ratings.

Nearly 60 per cent of university leaders cited 'cost implications and affordability of improved experiences' as a ‘significant constraint’ facing these espoused internal improvements. Externally, more than half of the respondents raised government policies, funding arrangements, or 'performance metrics' as having a problematic impact.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of vice-chancellors' group Universities UK, said: "There will clearly be significant challenges ahead for higher education in the coming years, but universities have shown readiness to embrace change and have become adept at responding in uncertain political and financial times.”