VC’s presentations Q & A
Securing our future success - questions from VC’s presentations
Q. What’s all the fuss about? Surely we can just increase our fees to cover the amount that the Government is taking away from us.
A. Unfortunately it is not as simple as this for three reasons. Firstly, the more we charge the fewer the students that can afford to come to us and so the less overall income we will have. Secondly, because of the changes it is unlikely that students will come to us through clearing since Universities will want to keep hold of their students to compensate for loss of income. Thirdly, the creation of a free market will mean that some Universities will expand at the expense of others. Taking these three forces together will mean that despite charging a higher fee we may recruit less students than we do now and will therefore have substantially less income than we have now.
Q: As fees increase, which will make the whole student experience more expensive, do you think people will try and reduce the living costs element by studying closer to home?
A: We don’t know yet, but would guess that the trend to study nearer to home might increase as people become more focussed on costs.
Q: Why do we have to charge the same fee level for part-time students?
A: Because a part-time programme consists of 360 credits as a full-time one does and we must get the same level of income from delivering them. Alternatively, if we want to charge less we must find a way of delivering them for less cost.
Q: Have you done any analysis about the change in home based students/students living away from home?
A: We are commissioning research into pricing and part of that will include looking at students preferences around where they might live while they study.
Q: Will foundation degree students moving to a top up year have to pay the new fee?
A: If progressing from our fd straight to top up year they would pay the existing fee. If they take a break or progress from outside the University they would pay the new fee.
Q: Do you anticipate that student expectations will rise if the fee doubles?
A: As the students’ fees rise so will their expectations, so we will need to ensure that we always put the student at the centre of our planning.
Q: Students are beginning to ask about contact hours.
A: At the moment we would compare well when asked about this, but we need to be aware that institutions will be addressing this issue, perhaps through how they categorise contact.
Q: What’s going to happen to funding for students from disadvantaged backgrounds?
A: From our income point of view we receive additional funding to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Nothing has been said about this funding stream and so I am concerned that it may disappear. From the students point of view, their non-repayable maintenance grant will increase by 12% to £3,250 and the Government has indicated that it will create a £150m national bursary scheme with those Universities charging more than £6,000 expected to contribute to it. Given the large proportion of students from poorer backgrounds we have, compared with some other Universities, this will impact upon us disproportionately.
Q: What might happen to international student fees?
A: We might see pressure to drive down international fees as universities try to attract greater numbers of international students. We must maintain our reputation for quality, and part of demonstrating this to the market is via our price, if we appear cheap then this will lead people to question the quality of our programmes.
Q: How will the proposed cap on the number of visas for international students affect us?
A: We don’t actually know yet. Universities UK will be lobbying to try to effect a change in the introduction of the cap.
Q: We currently have EU students from new member states. If Scotland and Wales are not charging fees how likely is it that we may lose them as they may move there?
A: It is possible that different groups of students may well no longer come here. It’s something we have to take account of in our planning.
Q: Will there be varying payback thresholds for EU students as there are at present?
A: We have not received any information on this so far.
Q: What impact will there be on postgraduate fees?
A: By 2014/15 students will be graduating with a perceived debt of £45k. We don’t know how many will then be able to choose to spend more on postgraduate qualifications. The government has not introduced new support for postgraduate students.
Q: What about fees for postgraduate students?
A: We will need to revisit these. Clearly we cannot be charging less for postgraduate than we are for undergraduate unless of course we can deliver it more cost effectively.
Q: How will the proposed changes affect our Master’s provision?
A: We do need to increase international postgraduate student numbers. UK students may no longer opt for postgraduate study immediately after graduating and the funding provision for postgraduate study is not entirely clear yet.
Q: You said that we need 25 students per module to break even on costs. Will this figure be rigidly applied?
A: The figure could change slightly when we have final details of funding cuts. But we will adhere to the figure unless there are exceptional circumstances. We must begin to rationalise the number of modules we teach immediately.
Q: The numbers I am allowed to recruit to are set at 20, will this mean the School will now allow me to recruit 25?
A: It depends, as if the School were to allocate you five more students then they would need to take five away from another programme. These decisions will need to be balanced across the School. The key issue is that we should not be setting up programmes in the first place that have modules with only 20 students.
Q: You mentioned duplication – and in some instances we are running courses at two or three campuses - what will the effect of these changes be on UCO and UCB?
A: We are looking at this. We opened the campuses to offer HE options to students who wouldn’t travel. We know that FE Colleges are looking to offer HE to compensate for their loss of FE income and so in a free market we may well find that both Barnsley and Oldham College start to operate their own HE provision.
Q: Are the University Campuses more vulnerable?
A: Yes. The campuses have a heavier reliance on students from the lower socio-economic groups so it is vital that we get the message about no upfront fee and that the repayment is only £1 when they are earning £25k per year. Also they are situated close to FE Colleges that have ambitions to move into HE. If the market opens up it is likely that they will both do this.
Q: Will we be looking at offering distance learning?
A: Yes, and to see if this can allow us to offer accelerated degree programmes, and to allow students to swap between full and part-time modes.
Q: You mentioned short courses – do you mean shortening degrees?
A: Short degrees are being offered by some universities (for example by Buckingham). We do need to think about whether we want to do this.
Q: Do you anticipate problems with staff and students’ unions about the difficulties we face?
A: Unions will decide what they have to do in response to the changes. My concern is that this debate has been made to focus on tuition fees, when in fact the argument should be about the government not investing in HE, and persuading them that they should do so.
Q: Will we be able to take account of other Universities’ fees when deciding on ours?
A: All Universities have been warned about anti-competitive behaviour and the creation of cartels and so we will not be discussing it directly with other Universities but we will certainly be keeping an eye on what they charge.
Q: You mentioned Universities may expand – how will they get their extra students?
A: They will look to take numbers from neighbouring and competitor Universities. The removal of the Hefce quota will make the market really unpredictable.
Q: Will Universities ever be free at all from Government manipulation.
A: This is unlikely!
Q: Will there be free competition around staff salaries in the sector?
A: If a free market exists then yes. If an institution gains more income then it might want to pay its staff more and choose to move away from the national pay scale.
Q: How can FE be more efficient than we are?
A: They have longer contractual hours, so they teach for longer, and their salary bands are lower. This means that their overall teaching costs are lower than ours.
Q: In the future who owns us and who would get the money if we were sold?
A: Ultimately it is the Treasury that owns us and if we were sold the Treasury would get the money.
Q: Over the last couple of years we have recruited several new Professors. Have they brought in funding to match what they have cost us?
A: The same question could be asked of all new staff that we have appointed whether they are teaching staff , service department staff or research staff and so we need to look at this in a different way. What is it that differentiates us from FE Colleges and Private Institutions? It is our capacity to create new knowledge and so research leadership is essential. We have fewer Professors than instiutions of a similar size and so we need to build our research leadership capacity. The approach we have taken is working since the research funding to the University has doubled since 2007 and we have also more than doubled the number of research students.
Q: How will Research council funding be distributed?
A: The Russell Group universities are pressing hard for the bulk of the share which, if successful, will impact on our allocation.
Q: David Willets talked about charging different amounts for different courses. Is this something we will do?
A: If we charge more than £6,000 then we have to decide whether we have a brand fee or a course fee. Overall I would prefer a brand fee but it may be possible to charge a premium factor on a few courses, for example, if we could demonstrate that the course leads to higher incomes. We are currently doing more work on this and are carrying out preference analysis based on both a brand fee structure and fees between subjects. What this research won’t tell us is how many students might be put off going to HE by the higher fee. We will not be announcing fees in the prospectus, referring people instead to the web site. We will take as long as possible before we publish our fees and will certainly analyse the market as others publish.
Q: Raising entry requirements could be dangerous – it might mean we enter areas of the market where there are already lots of competitors.
A: We will be looking at the analysis of entry tariffs and the market very carefully to ensure we are giving the right signal of quality to potential students.
Q: You spoke about setting up companies, this requires investment.
A: We are currently talking to local investors and creating an Enterprise Centre on the Larchfield site. One of the functions would be to help SMEs and I would like some of these to be run by staff. If staff have ideas then we could look at them going part-time which provides some financial security and leaving time for the member of staff to capitalise on their ideas. The University gets the benefit of lower staff costs and potential future returns.
Q: You said that certain areas of the estate need looking at – do we have funds to cover this?
A: We must find the funds. Simply put, students will not come to study in a poor environment. Our financial models include generating a modest 4% surplus for future investment funds for investment in the estate.