It may not happen in 2015. It may not happen at all but, if and when we get a full blooded Conservative government with a working majority, there is a strong likelihood that it will push for universities to move steadily towards self-sufficiency and financial independence from the state. This policy is already being actively promoted by the Free Enterprise Group of Tory MPs and was outlined recently by the member for Salisbury, John Glen, who has published a paper entitled“Completing the Reform, Freeing the Universities”. This suggested that universities need greater freedom: financially, in defining their own research agendas, in determining their own access policies, and in setting differential fee levels and more flexible student support arrangements.
The bottom line is that this influential Conservative pressure group foresees a situation wherein British universities operate as standalone business units along the lines of independent institutions like the College of Law and Regent’s College which have just been awarded university status. The MPs feel that if these private universities can hack it as independent providers then so should the state supported sector.
The problem is that most universities still rely quite heavily on public funding particularly for capital projects and investment in campus facilities. If these universities start to trim capital investment as the result of further cuts in state support, then this might affect their ability to attract new students which in turn would hit revenues even more.
Mr.Glen suggests three ways in which universities could grow revenues and gradually wean themselves off dependence on the state: re-engaging alumni, expanding student numbers and new markets, and remaining internationally competitive.
He feels that every institution has tens of thousands of alumni who would be prepared to help campuses with donations during their lifetime and / or make bequests in their wills. In the past, there was never any need to “tap up” former students and university staff have probably underestimated the willingness of alumni to help out.
Secondly, he is convinced that universities could do far more to boost income by raising student numbers and by exploiting their brands with “clone” institutions in foreign countries. Opening branches overseas in the same way as many public schools like Harrow and Sherborne have done is simply the equivalent of exporting which is what you do when your domestic market becomes saturated. The British brand is strong in the education market and a university looking to start an overseas “branch” in the Far East, for example, would have no difficulty finding an education marketing agency to promote it amongst the local population.
Finally, the paper emphasises that universities should focus on remaining internationally competitive and attracting more foreign students who tend to generate higher fee income than their British counterparts. For more information about how to do better education marketing please visit: http://www.360education.co.uk/