Impact of Fees on the UK Higher Education Sector

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Now that the process for admitting students to university for 2012 is drawing to a close, we can take stock of the impact that the new fees regime has had on Higher Education institutions in England and Wales. This article will explore the changes that have happened over the last few months and their impact on academic jobseekers like you.

Students as customers:

At open days throughout the 2011-12 academic year, potential candidates and their parents have come to universities in great numbers to find out about the courses offered. By examining the attendance at open days, we can deduce that the new fees structure has not dissuaded young people from considering university study as an option.

However, the questions asked by visitors at open days have become much more detailed and probing. Parents want to know what their children will be offered for their thousands of pounds and that this will provide ‘value for money’. They are interested in classroom contact hours, extra curricular activities such as visits, trips and societies, exchange programmes and in the employment prospects of students on a particular course.

Therefore, it has become more important than ever for academics to be willing to ‘sell’ their course to prospective candidates at open days.

Student numbers for the coming year:

The high level of interest at open days has translated into mixed fortunes when we consider the numbers students signed up to attend this coming year. Some programmes that have focused on improving their offering and making their courses seem attractive have done well and some have recruited more students than expected.

Good marketing at open days is not the only factor in successful student recruitment. Cost, reputation of the institution and venue are also important. Young people will always want to study in cities like Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle for reasons other than academic ones!

However, other departments have struggled to recruit the expected number of students and perhaps it’s too early to suggest why. For example, there are trends not influenced by fees, such as the general decline in the study of languages in schools and the corresponding decline of language departments at universities.

The fees regime may also affect the number of adult learners and part-time students. A decline in these numbers will hit some institutions much harder than others. These patterns will be analysed over the coming year.

Consequences for academic jobseekers:

Departments who have struggled to recruit students will definitely not be in a position to recruit more staff and indeed, in severe cases, may be looking to cut back staff numbers, or not replace departing colleagues. On the other hand, departments that have recruited well might be allowed by their institutions to hire more staff.

The REF (the audit mechanism by which money is distributed from HEFCE to the HE institutions) will also play a huge part in determining staffing levels.  However, the need to emphasise a department’s teaching and learning offering is being recognised by some institutions, which are hiring teaching specialists as well as top class researchers.

Academic jobseekers must be prepared to discuss on application forms and at interview the issues thrown up by the new fees regime, such as the significance of open days and the importance of contact hours and employability.

If you would like more detail about how these issues affect your current university and the sector as a whole, try discussing this with either your mentor/line manager or the admissions tutor in your department. 

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