How Anglia Ruskin University cooks its books

Rebecca Thomas & Jenny Buckley - News Reporters 19 November 2012

As reported previously by The Cambridge Student, Anglia Ruskin University has seen a surprising increase in admission figures for 2012. In the last admissions cycle, the university saw a percentage increase of 8.3, despite UCAS predicting a national percentage drop of 7.4. In terms of student numbers, this equates to an increase of 471 undergraduates.

TCS has been investigating this rise in student numbers, and this increase in admissions is a direct result of the University cutting back on the number of courses offered. Students admitted to the university in 2012 have had fewer choices to make with regard to what they wish to study. When compared to the 2011 admissions cycle, past prospectuses show that 75 fewer courses were on offer for those applying for 2012 admission.

At an ARU open day on 3 November, members of the admissions department told TCS team members posing as potential applicants that the university deploys a policy of cross-subsidisation. Rather than having an admissions quota for each subject, the university shifts places from courses receiving fewer applicants to those which are over-subscribed. This has immediate implications for their admissions statistics, as it becomes possible to admit a higher proportion of their applicants, boosting figures across the university, and ensuring that their courses run at, or close to, capacity.

The admissions team were also very keen to emphasise that the university had more places to offer this year than before, after ‘winning’ an additional 500 places from the government. The allocation of additional places after the publication of A-level results would appear to be a benefit of Science and Universities Minister David Willetts’ recent policy of deregulation, in which universities are allowed to accept an unlimited number of students with A-level grades of ABB or above. The policy has come under fire, with critics pointing to the impact on funding and the potential serious consequences for the standard of education at the UK’s leading institutions.

ARU have also, as previously reported, lowered grade boundaries in order to attract a greater number of students. This is most noticeable in courses such as Accounting and Finance, which previously asked for 240 UCAS points, the equivalent of BCD grades at A-level. It now asks for 160, equivalent to DDE. Significantly, their prospectus also now advertises a range of UCAS points for their core courses, for example to study History, a candidate must receive 220-260 points. The lowering of offer boundaries and the introduction of the range system allows the University greater flexibility during the admissions process.

Despite investing £81 million over the last five years, ARU is showing the strain of increasing student numbers with ever more students being denied access to university accommodation. The University can no longer provide accommodation for all of its students, with a number being housed permanently in the YMCA and a further portion being offered assistance in finding housing in the private sector. First year students at the university who are not able to apply for accommodation when the system opens on 7 January 2013 are unlikely to receive rooms on campus. Yet with the UCAS deadline not until 15th January, students from schools with little history of applying to university are at a significant disadvantage.

The system is having teething difficulties as many current undergraduates still find themselves without University owned accommodation. According to a spokesman for the university, the rooming system for 2012 accommodation is still active.

Yet it is not just student housing that is struggling to cope with the increase in numbers. In light of their record admissions, the teaching system is under greater pressure than ever. In post-graduate studies, the staff-student ratio for some courses is among the worst in the country. Building and Planning, for example, has a ratio of 1:30.

On the surface, the increased admissions statistics for the current academic year are a welcome exception to the downwards national trend. However, with ARU now charging £8,300 per annum for undergraduate courses, and with Willetts doing his best to hit government targets for admissions, it is questionable whether this is the best approach. If left unchecked, the potential consequences for students in terms of their experiences at university would appear to be severe.

Rebecca Thomas & Jenny Buckley – News Reporters