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UK independent HEIs anticipate EU student drops

A mere 10% of UK independent higher education providers have identified opportunities post-Brexit, while many predict a future decline in EU student numbers, a survey by Independent HE has found. Meanwhile, small institutions in England have indicated they are unsure whether they will register or are eligible to register with the Office for Students.

Independent HE represents private universities, alternative providers, embedded colleges and creative institutes, including music schools such as ICMP, Point Blank and ACM. Photo: pxhere

63% said they were applying because they had a Tier 4 licence to recruit international students

Recruiting students and staff was the single largest issue reported by the 110 respondents, Joy Elliott-Bowman, director of Policy & Development at Independent HE noted, while Brexit was seen as hampering operations of independent higher education institutions.

“2017 respondents were less optimistic about non-EU student numbers, with less than 40% predicting growth and over 50% growth occurring”

“82% of comments were exclusively or primarily based on the challenges seen from Brexit and only 10% offered any comments on opportunities in the Brexit debate,” Elliott-Bowman said.

In the 2018 survey, more than half (55%) anticipated growth in students from the UK in the next year and 49% predicted growth in non-EU numbers, however, less than a sixth (14%) said they expected growth in EU numbers.

In terms of decline, respondents were more than four times as likely to believe EU numbers would decrease than UK and non-EU numbers.

“The impact of any downturn on EU student recruitment to the internationalisation of independent providers [is significant],” Independent HE chief executive Alex Proudfoot noted.

He added that many independent HE providers no longer hold a Tier 4 licence. Without a solution for free movement for students and staff post-Brexit, many providers will no longer offer the multi-cultural classroom they once did, Proudfoot explained.

“A decline in EU students will impact the cultural diversity within many independent HE providers where non-EU students simply are not an option.”

However, the report also acknowledged that despite most predecitions from 2017 being generally accurate, a decline in EU student numbers had “not come to pass”.

“2017 respondents were less optimistic about non-EU student numbers, with less than 40% predicting growth and over 50% growth occurring,” the survey also noted.

80% of respondents were applying to the Office for Students, which replaced the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Office for Fairer Access in April 2018, to gain access to student loans.

However, 63% said they were applying because they had a Tier 4 licence to recruit international students.

“Eligibility for OfS is based on criteria designed with [large publicly funded] universities in mind and as such it is unclear to many providers if they are eligible,” Proudfoot noted.

Without registering with OfS or obtaining a letter confirming they are not eligible for membership with the OfS by 1 August 2019, independent providers in England will no longer have the required educational oversight to meet the conditions of their Tier 4 licence, according to Proudfoot.

The survey also indicated that cost of registration with the OfS “may be a significant driver” in an increase in providers who are not registering in 2018 but who had been unsure or considered a category last year.

Providers with up to 25 full time students expect to pay £10,400 to register with the Office for Students, which amounts to an average of £700 per student, whereas providers with 2501-5000 students expect to pay £79,400, which is the equivalent of £23.

Universities in the top bracket of student numbers will be expected to pay £5 per student for Office for Students membership, Independent HE noted.

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