It’s still several weeks before the UCAS deadline closes in January so it’s too early to see exactly what is happening, but the figures do nevertheless make interesting reading.
The total number of applications nationally is down by 12.9% on last year, but the number of applications from UK domiciled students has fallen by 15.1%; an increase in applications from non-EU students is responsible for the difference in these figures.
Non-science subjects seem to be suffering the biggest falls in application numbers; physical sciences are doing better than average, but still face a drop of 7% in numbers. Anecdotal evidence I’ve gleaned from chatting to Physics & Astronomy colleagues is that some departments are doing very well, even increasing on last year, while others are significantly down. It is, however, far too early to tell how these numbers will translate into bums on seats in lecture theatres.
A particular concern for us here in Wales are the statistics of applications to Welsh universities. The number of English-domiciled applicants to Welsh universities is down by 17.4% while the number of Welsh applicants to Welsh universities is down by 15.2%. On the other hand, the number of Welsh applicants to English universities is down by just 5.3%.
The pattern of cross-border applications is particularly important for Welsh Higher Education because of the Welsh Assembly Government’s policy of subsidizing Welsh-domiciled students wherever they study in the United Kingdom, a policy which is generous to students but which is paid for by large cuts in direct university funding. The more students take the WAG subsidy out of Wales, the larger will be the cuts in grants to Welsh HEIs.
Moreover, in the past, about 40% of the students in Welsh universities come from England. If the fee income from incoming English students is significantly reduced relative to the subsidy paid to outgoing Welsh students then the consequences for the financial health of Welsh universities are even more dire.
Although it is early days the figures as they stand certainly suggest the possibility that the number of Welsh students studying in England will increase both relative to the number staying in Wales and relative to the number of English students coming to study in Wales. Both these factors will lead to a net transfer of funds from Welsh Higher Education Institutions to their English counterparts. I think the policy behind this is simply idiotic, but by the time the WAG works this out it may be too late.
Another interesting wrinkle on the WAG’s policy can be found in a piece in last week’s Times Higher. We’re used to the idea that people might relocate to areas where schools or local services are better or cheaper, but consider the incentives on an English family who are thinking of the cost of sending their offspring to University. The obvious thing for them to do is to relocate to Wales in order to collect the WAG subsidy which they can then spend sending their little dears to university in England. That will save them tens of thousands of pounds per student, all taken directly from the Welsh Higher Education budget and paid into to the coffers of an English university.
There are already dark rumours circulating that the WAG subsidy will turn out to be so expensive that the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales is thinking of cancelling all its research funding. That means that Welsh universities face the prospect of having to take part in the burdensome Research Excellence Framework, in competition with much better funded English and Scottish rivals, but getting precisely no QR funding at the end of it.
And all this is because the Welsh Assembly Government wants to hand a huge chunk of its budget back to England. Is this how devolution is supposed to work? Madness.Follow @telescoper