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Some universities may close, academics fear

Judith Burns

BBC News online

24 June 2013

An article on BBC News online quotes extensively from the findings of PA Consulting Group’s survey of senior university leaders. It also quotes the report’s co-author, PA’s Mike Boxall, higher education expert, who observes: "It is clear that we are witnessing a sea-change in the dynamics of higher education."
The article cites PA’s finding that university leaders are moving away from "their historical obsession with outlook for government policy and funding" to focus increasingly on "the competitive battle for fee-paying students", with a "new imperative" to offer "attractive and rewarding learning experiences”.

The article notes that PA’s survey reveals a "marked softening and increased discrimination" in demand for higher education from school-leavers over the past year, and quotes key statistics from the survey: 

  • some 58% of the university leaders surveyed said they were worried by falling demand for undergraduate courses from UK and EU-based students

  • some 90% expressed concerns over declining numbers of postgraduate students from the UK and EU, with more than 80% worried by falling international numbers.

The article highlights PA’s conclusion that these trends will lead to "a radical restructuring of relationships and ventures within and between providers rather than a widespread shake-out”. Figures from the survey are used to support this observation:

  • in 2012 there were 20,000 fewer undergraduate courses offered through UCAS than in 2006.

  • some 90% of the survey respondents expect to see a super league of research-based institutions emerging

a similar proportion say the distinction between public and private providers will start to become blurred.

How will the future look? The BBC article quotes PA’s analysis that traditional university structures and academic quality processes will provide "a stable core, while entrepreneurial and innovative learning experiences, incorporating the use of educational technologies, are provided in diverse ways", to different groups of learners. The article concludes with PA’s call for "imaginative debate" on how to balance tensions between academic conservatism and entrepreneurial innovation.


Mike Boxall, PA higher education expert

To visit PA's education pages click here or contact us now.

To read the article in full, click here.

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