Thursday, May 30, 2024

Universities consider firing staff as foreign student enrolments plummet

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Hundreds of university staff are at risk of being fired as educational institutions scramble to cut costs following a substantial drop in the number of foreign students enrolling on courses.

University chiefs have warned of a range of cuts, from shutting down courses to shedding teaching staff, as the institutions are pushed into deficit, The Times reported.

This academic year, at least 15 universities in the UK have announced job cuts and additional cost-saving measures in an effort to salvage their finances.

Earlier in March, more than 120 staff at Sheffield Hallam University were served with “risk of redundancy” letters, which gave them until 18 March to take voluntary redundancy or apply for “a limited number of roles”. In February, the University of Kent proposed cutting 58 jobs along with nine courses in response to “financial challenges”.

Following a freeze in tuition fees, most universities have covered their costs by enrolling overseas students, who pay far more than domestic students.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, overseas students comprised 24 per cent of all students in higher education during the 2021-2022 academic year. However, early acceptance data indicates a 37 per cent decrease in overseas recruits for the coming financial year.

Northumbria University said the cuts were necessary because of “a sudden reduction of the number of students” arriving in the UK from Nigeria, where the currency has collapsed against the pound.

Acceptance data suggests there could be a 71 per cent reduction in the number of students arriving from Nigeria, The Times reported.

John Rushforth, executive secretary of the Committee of University Chairs, said: “I’ve been in higher education for 30 years and senior leaders are more worried than I’ve ever seen them.”

He told the newspaper that “bankruptcy is a realistic possibility” for some universities, which are being pushed to do “really difficult things” to stave off the prospect.

“Taking fewer British students is a last resort, but if you’re making a loss on something, people have to consider it. Everything has got to be looked at because the situation is so serious,” he said. “Universities have to think hard about what they want to protect, and make choices about divesting themselves of things that are not core to the institution. There will be less choice for students.

“Fundamentally, either you have to increase income, or you reduce quality or volume.”

Last year, thousands of staff belonging to the University and College Union participated in a walkout to protest against the “punitive” pay deductions imposed on those who had engaged in a summer marking boycott.

“I’ve not received full pay for five months for taking part in an entirely lawful boycott,” Tanzil Chowdhury, a senior lecturer in law at Queen Mary University of London, told The Independent.

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