THE publication by UCAS of the final data about the 2011-12
admissions cycle for degree courses provides some interesting
pointers for the church university sector.
The rise in fees has not, perhaps, dampened enthusiasm for
degree courses as much as some might have thought. Indeed, for the
remainder of this decade, the largest influence on recruitment is
likely to be the reduction in the total number of 18-year-olds, as
the temporary decline in the population feeds through to the older
teenage group, just as secondary school rolls start rising again
among those at Key Stage 3, transferring from the primary
There are other factors that will affect the sector, however.
Unless high-tariff institutions reduce the number of places on
offer, to reflect this population decline, then lower-tariff
providers will have to absorb a proportionally larger percentage of
any reduction in the number of applications.
Until this reduces the number of applicants to a figure below
the number of places on offer at an institution, this is likely to
be mainly reflected in a greater use of clearing by some
universities. This will especially be the case if there is further
instability in the outcomes of the examination system, such as was
experienced with the 2012 GCSE English results.
Church universities, and especially those in cathedral cities
away from the conurbations, will need to be aware that 240,000 of
the 407,000 UK domiciled students accepted in 2012 were studying at
institutions less than 50 miles away from their home address, and
more than 170,000 of them were travelling less than 25 miles to
study. By comparison, just over 80,000 students travelled more than
100 miles to study for a degree.
With even more regional institutions being granted university
status, the mix of location and course may be critical in the
battle faced by some universities to fill their places.
OF COURSE, they could always try reducing their fees. This year,
the average fee charged by universities in England, before any
waiver was applied, was £8378, slightly lower than the £8500-£8600
charged elsewhere in the UK. The average tuition fee of acceptances
to higher-tariff institutions was £8981, compared with £7919 at
Acceptances to degree courses were at an average fee of £8541 -
higher than those for foundation degrees (£6660), and HNDs (£6047).
Of course, these averages are likely to have been affected by the
mix of arts, humanities, science, and other courses at the
different institutions. But there is little reason why fees should
rise over the next few years, and every incentive for them to
reduce in real terms.
Most worryingly, many students do not realise that the interest
payments start as soon as they draw down their fees, even though
repayments do not start until after their course ends and their
income exceeds the minimum threshold.
A student who started a three-year degree course at a church
university, and then chose to study for a primary PGCE, could have
incurred £36,000 in fees. The Government's website, Directgov,
suggests that this may mean a total repayment package, once
interest had been added, of more than £90,000. Without the PGCE,
repayments would fall to less than £60,000 on the £27,000 borrowed;
a massive disincentive to train as a teacher.
THERE is interesting news from the UCAS statistics about the
changing social mix of undergraduates. There has been a steady
increase in the cohort entry-rates for young people of all
backgrounds, with the largest increases for the most
For the cohort aged 18 in 2011 (and 19 in 2012), the entry rate
increased for those in the more disadvantaged areas. There was no
other growth. This trend is important, because university
admissions from those from less disadvantaged backgrounds are close
to saturation point: those from disadvantaged backgrounds offer
universities probably the only hope for growth - at least until the
overall cohort size starts increasing again, early in the
There is also something of a gender difference emerging at
undergraduate level. Among 18-year-olds from the UK, women were a
third more likely to enter higher education in 2012 than men. In
2012, the entry rate fell for both men and women, but the decrease
for men was four times greater than for women.
Men are more likely to be accepted than women, however, although
the difference reduced in 2012. But women remain more likely to
enter higher education than men are to apply (there is food for
thought for the faith-school sector, to see whether their students'
destinations match this trend).
UNIVERSITY governors and managers are likely to have to keep
abreast of this sort of data, to help them plan for the future. The
type of financial mistakes that have arisen in some of the church
universities in the past are unlikely to be tolerated in the
Just as there are concerns about the leadership pipeline for
faith schools; so the faith community will need to ensure that
there is a suitable flow of high-quality leaders for the
higher-education sector, if it is to retain and develop its
distinctive message in an over-crowded market place, where - as the
2011 census revealed - adherence to the Christian faith is
declining among the younger generation.
Professor John Howson is director of DataforEducation.info,
a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University, and a visiting
Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University's Department of