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Students back bailouts – new poll shows students want Government action if their university fails

  • 7 March 2019

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has released the only dedicated study on what UK students think about the financial health of universities, Students back bailouts: Students’ views on the financial health of universities (HEPI Policy Note 11).

Rumours persist about institutions facing financial difficulties. But what awareness of this do students have and what do they think should happen to a university on the brink of closure?

The survey of over 1,000 full-time undergraduate students, undertaken for HEPI by the polling company YouthSight, shows:

  • most students (83%) are confident their own institution is in a strong financial position;
  • over three-quarters of students (77%) believe government should step in if their university were threatened with closure;
  • more than half of students (51%) think fees should be refunded in the event of their university closing, while only one-third (32%) back merger with another institution;
  • nearly all students (97%) want to know if their university is in financial difficulty – in contrast with current practice which hides financial problems from students;
  • most students (84%) say they would have been less likely to have applied to their university if they had known it was in financial difficulty; and
  • the overwhelming majority of students (89%) do not know what Student Protection Plans are, while even more have not seen their own university’s Plan (93%).

Rachel Hewitt, HEPI’s Director of Policy and Advocacy, said: 

This research shows a worrying mismatch between students’ views of what should happen to a university in financial difficulty and the proposed action by the Office for Students. Despite the refusal of Ministers to countenance the idea, 77% of students want government bailouts for failing institutions. The Office for Students are focusing on Student Protection Plans, but almost no students know what these are or their role for failing institutions. 

While there are legitimate reasons not to make public the names of those universities that are facing financial difficulties, students are very keen to have this information. However, should failing institutions be named, it would have a significant impact on recruitment at these institutions – 84% of students say they could be less likely to apply to a university in financial difficulty.

Government and the Office for Students must urgently engage more with the views of students on this critical issue of financial sustainability in the sector.”

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

The rumours of a small number of universities being in financial difficulty are too persistent to ignore. No UK university has ever gone bust. So it would be a major scandal if it were to happen.

In the new higher education marketplace, there is meant to be less direct intervention from outside. But, in our survey, just one student out of 1,048 respondents said nothing should happen if their university was facing severe financial difficulty.

It remains implausible that any large university would just be allowed to shut up shop because of the harm this would cause to students, staff and the local area. Moreover, taxpayers have built up our university system so have a vested interest in ensuring their contributions have not gone to waste.

Notes for Editors

  1. Wave 5 of the HEPI/YouthSight Monitor was answered by 1,048 full-time undergraduate students and undertaken between the 4 and 8 January 2019. Weights have been used to ensure the sample is representative by age, gender and university type. The margin of error is +/-3.09%, based on a 95% confidence level
  2. Respondents received a £1 Bonus Bond gift voucher for answering these questions and others on a different topic. 
  3. The full results are available in a downloadable spreadsheet.
  4. The Higher Education Policy Institute was established in 2002 to shape the higher education policy debate through evidence. It is the United Kingdom’s only independent think tank devoted to higher education. HEPI is a non-partisan charity funded in part by organisations and universities that wish to see a vibrant higher education debate.

1 comment

  1. Albert Wright says:

    I think this report has very little value to anyone.

    Of course students don’t want their own University to close and it probably will not and should not close.

    The real issue is a particular one not a general one.

    There are around 10 to 20 Universities, however, who are in financial difficulties and the focus of attention should be specifically on them to find out why.
    It is the students at these failing institutions who should be surveyed not those at a wide range of places, particularly if the sample size is so low at around 1,000.

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