Experts are warning that some universities in England could be in danger of collapse. This follows a decrease in the number of young students enrolling at different education institutions. The universities admissions service UCAS revealed figures that indicate a steady decline of 18-year-olds enrolling over the past five years. The major losses have been seen at London Metropolitan University, the University of Cumbria, Kingston University and the University of Wolverhampton.
No Safety Net for vulnerable Universities
However, more universities could be left in a vulnerable position. There is currently no government body with a with a clear plan to predict or prevent university failure. The vice-chancellor of Cardiff University, Professor Colin Riordan, has been left shocked at plummeting student numbers. He has stated: “We haven’t been in a position in living memory where it seems likely that established universities could find themselves in an unsustainable position and having no option but to close”.
The Office for Students (OfS) is the new regulator for universities in England. The organisation appears to have established the view that it should be possible for universities to face closure. It also emphasises that universities need to have an exit-strategy prepared in the event of closure.
The OfS has been criticised for this course of action as it doesn’t help vulnerable universities. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (predecessor of the OfS) had a recognised plan to avoid failure, rather than acting when a university is facing closure. There wasn’t much focus on bailing institutions out, but rather enacting ongoing scrutiny and observation of daily affairs. Additionally, becoming directly involved with a university would be done if necessary.
Unfortunately, those safeguards are no longer available. The OfS have created a feeling of unease and doubt that they are operating with the needs of universities, staff and students in mind. Professor Riordan has outlined that the OfS “has set its stall out very clearly and it is not there to ensure the sector’s health”.
Decrease in Enrolment has Given Way to Uncertainty
Allowing a university to a go under could have serious repercussions, so it is even more worrying that the OfS isn’t implementing more preventative measures. In depressed areas of England, closure could be particularly detrimental. Universities are significant sources of employment and could be the main route for local populations to advance themselves. People will find it more difficult to improve their career and make progress if their local university is gone.