Education boss warns of testing times for universities

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SOME universities could find their budgets under pressure after failing to recruit enough students, according to a new report.

A review of the financial health of England’s higher education sector says there are indications that demand for places in this academic year has been lower than predicted.

It means that England’s universities are facing problems reaching their recruitment targets, increasing the risk that their finances will be worse than expected.

The report, by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), examines the financial health of England’s universities from 2011-12 to the forecasts for 2014-15.

It concludes that the projected performance of the sector up to 2014-15 is sound, but it relies on universities achieving their student recruitment targets.

This year, the first year that students pay fees of up to £9,000 per year, official figures suggest that demand is lower than expected.

HEFCE’s discussions with universities also show that some institutions are facing problems attracting students and that their enrolments will be down by more than planned.

Chief executive Sir Alan Langlands said: “Universities and colleges are projecting sound financial results to 2014-15. However, these forecasts were made in June 2012, prior to the latest student recruitment cycle. Some institutions have experienced difficulties in achieving their recruitment targets, and may face budgetary pressures as a result.

“Despite this, the overall financial position is satisfactory, although reductions in public funding, especially for capital investment, mean that institutions will need to deploy more of their own resources to maintain their estates. This will ensure the long term sustainability of educational and research programmes and a high quality student experience.”

The report also warns that the UK Border Agency’s decision to revoke London Metropolitan University’s licence to sponsor international students could damage the UK’s reputation overseas.

This could lead to a fall in applications from international students, whose fees are a significant source of income for many institutions, it says.