June 13, 2024

In the United Kingdom, there are about 15 universities currently considering cutting jobs, and courses this academic year. 

According to The Times, many more have announced cost-saving plans that could lead to redundancies or courses being scrapped to save tens of millions.  

This may not be unconnected to the UK government’s recent introduction of higher education reforms that will crack down on “rip-off” degrees and ensure student visas are used for education rather than immigration. 

Also, overseas students who are not taking research degrees are now barred from bringing their families. In addition, James Cleverly, the home secretary, suggested scrapping visas that allow students to work in Britain for two or three years after graduation. 

Currently, students face fewer teaching staff, lower quality, and fewer options as universities struggle to slash costs in response to a reduction in the number of wealthy international students. 

University leaders have therefore warned of “really difficult” cuts, such as discontinuing entire courses and laying off academic staff, as a loss of one-third of international students threatens to put several institutions into the red. 

Nigeria’s economic crises have led to a collapse in applications while Indian students are also being deterred as the the government cracks down on visas. 

Universities say bankruptcies are a “realistic possibility” with one in ten already cutting staff this year. 

Tuition rates have effectively been unchanged for more than a decade, and with most colleges now losing money on domestic students, they have offset their losses with international students who pay significantly more.

Over the last four years, numbers have increased by 60%, reaching 560,000.  

However, early acceptance data predicts a 37% decrease in overseas recruits in the coming fiscal year. Data from Nigeria will be down 71% after a sevenfold increase in enrolments in four years saw the country overtake the entire EU with 33,000 students at British universities. 

John Rushforth, executive secretary of the Committee of University Chairs, said: 

“I’ve been in higher education for 30 years and senior leaders are more worried than I’ve ever seen them.”

“…bankruptcy is a realistic possibility for some institutions and universities are having to do really difficult things to stave that off.

“Taking fewer British students is a last resort but if you’re making a loss on something people have to consider it. Everything has got to be looked at because the situation is so serious.

“Universities have to think hard about what they want to protect and make choices about divesting themselves of things that are not core to the institution. There will be less choice for students. A lot of institutions have introduced lots of modules so that students can pick and choose. That’s expensive, so it may be that you go back to more generic courses.

“Fundamentally, either you have to increase income, or you reduce quality or volume.”

Humanities subjects and languages are bearing the brunt of the cuts. 

The University of Kent has just revealed plans to discontinue nine courses, including philosophy, contemporary languages, and comparative literature. 

Aberdeen is discontinuing single honors language degrees, while Winchester is discontinuing numerous humanities courses.

Oxford Brookes is dropping music and reducing its history department, while several other universities are planning unspecified cost cuts.  

North Umbria University is among those to have cited economic turmoil in Nigeria, whose currency has collapsed against the pound, for the need to make cuts in the face of a “very sudden reduction of the number of students” coming from the country. 

A spokesman for North Umbria University said: “The university’s financial position was very strong but the current financial outlook is weaker than anticipated.

“This is a consequence of a combination of fixed home undergraduate fees, difficulties around recruitment of international students, and the ongoing impact of inflation.”

Rachel Hewitt, chief executive of MillionPlus, the group for newer universities, said: 

“The economic crisis in Nigeria presents difficulties for any university seeking to recruit from that country”

“The existing tuition fee model coupled with high inflation has seen their income fall year on year, meaning institutions have to make difficult choices and do more with less”.

She also blamed ministers, saying:  “It is impossible to imagine the government going out of its way to make Britain less inviting to investment in almost any other sector and yet every negative headline and policy reform that makes Britain less attractive to international students damages both the higher education sector and UK plc.”


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