Yorkshire’s universities hit by application slump

YORKSHIRE universities have missed out on millions of pounds of fee income after a slump in the number of students applying led to more than 1,800 places on degree courses going unfilled across the region.

The head of Yorkshire’s largest university said it had been left with an “unprecedented” number of vacancies for this academic year. Professor Michael Arthur, vice chancellor of Leeds University, also warned that Government reforms aimed at creating a market place for students had created “unnecessary turbulence” .

The majority of universities which responded to a Yorkshire Post survey did not fill their courses after Clearing. Sheffield had 600 places unfilled while Leeds had 540. Huddersfield had 250 places unfilled, Leeds Met had 141 but this has now fallen to 123 after people started courses this month. Bradford was 127 short of its target, Hull was 100 short and York had 46 places unfilled.

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Sheffield Hallam recruited 130 fewer students than its quota but was able to make this up with “AAB” students of whom universities were allowed to recruit an unlimited number this year. Leeds Trinity and York St John both filled their places and are expanding the number of courses they offer in 2013.

Last September saw a wide-scale overhaul of the way in which universities were financed and recruited students. A massive cut in teaching funding from Government meant universities were much more reliant on income from student fees which almost trebled to up to £9,000 a year.

The Government also changed the rules for student recruitment.

In previous years all universities were given a limit on the number of students they could take on with hefty fines for those going above it. This academic year every university in the country had the quota of students they were allowed to recruit cut but they were allowed to take on an unlimited number of students who achieved two As and a B or better at A-level.

The reforms were aimed at preventing universities having to turn away top students because they were already full.

University bosses in Yorkshire have warned, however, the system has made it more difficult for some top universities to recruit because the number of students with top A-level grades fell last summer.

Universities’ quotas were cut this year by the number of AAB students they took on in 2011 – with the expectation they could recruit the same number of AAB candidates again outside of the quota system. But university bosses at two of the region’s elite Russell Group universities say they were unable to do this because a decline in A-level grades meant there were not enough AAB students available.

Prof Arthur said: “I have never been a fan of the AAB system. When it was developed I advised that it would create unnecessary turbulence but it wasn’t predicted that there would also be less students with AAB grades this year than last.

“An odd set of rules has been put in place which means universities can recruit as many AAB students as they like. It was thought Russell Group universities would recruit more students but, of course, if there are far fewer AAB students in the system then it means we ended up recruiting less.”

Prof Arthur said the number of vacancies at Leeds this year had been unprecedented. He said the university could have filled the places if it had been prepared to lower its entry requirements.

Professor Paul White, Sheffield University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching, said: “The under-recruitment of students to the Russell Group of universities in 2012 almost exactly matched the reductions in the numbers of students getting the top A-level grades.”