Tuition fees from British students alone are not enough to cover the cost of undergraduate courses at University College London, the Provost has revealed, forcing UCL and other universities to rely on tuition from international students.
UCL Provost Michael Spence said no undergraduate courses at his university could be funded by domestic fees of £9,250 a year, with UCL having to spend up to an extra £90m last year to support tuition during the pandemic .
UCL recently became the UK’s largest mainstream university with 42,000 students and is celebrating its rise to 9th overall in the Guardian University Guide 2022 published on Saturday.
Spence, who joined UCL from his previous post as vice chancellor at the University of Sydney, said the government in England should not follow Australia when it comes to using international tuition fees to fund universities.
“It’s really important that Britain doesn’t go down the route to Australia in this way,” Spence said. “Australia digs things up and grows things and has smart people. England only has smart people, nothing else. It is therefore really important to ensure that innovation and research are protected and encouraged.”
The Government is expected to make changes to higher education funding in England as part of the comprehensive spending review due to be published next month. Many in the industry are bracing for possible undergraduate tuition cuts, along with other restrictions aimed at reducing the number of school leavers taking courses that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson sees as “low-quality” courses.
Spence said: “We would be facing an absolute drop in tuition. There is no course at UCL where the undergraduate fee covers the cost of delivering the course. We just had the calculations done by an independent company.
“That is why we are already supporting the education of UK students with international undergraduate and postgraduate fees.”
Despite the success of distance learning during the pandemic, Spence said UCL needed in-person classes to return in the autumn. He said: “We are deeply committed to the idea that the university is an embodied community, a place where students learn from each other and learn from the people who teach them. It has to be face-to-face.”
Spence’s arrival as Provost coincided with continued expansion at UCL after enrolling a record number of students last year, overtaking the University of Manchester as the largest campus and the construction of a new site, UCL East, near the Olympic Stadium 2012 at Stratford.
UCL has also risen in recent international rankings, including on the quality of research, and returns this year in the top 10 of the Guardian guide aimed at students.
Matt Hiely-Rayner, the statistician who compiled the data, said UCL’s performance was a reflection of its strength at depth, with 22 of its subjects ranked in the top 10 nationally. There were particular improvements this year in the subjects of economics, computer science and mathematics as well as English and politics.
Overall, Oxford retains its top spot nationally, with Cambridge moving up to second and displacing the University of St Andrews, which falls to third.
The effects of the pandemic can be seen in the slump in student satisfaction at many universities. Respondents to the 2021 National Student Survey expressed deep dissatisfaction with their undergraduate experience, the worst results since the survey began in 2005.
Hiely-Rayner said: “The results for the entire sector for 2021 have been terrible. Everything is down on average, but for some institutions it’s been closer to 20 percentage points. There was relatively little good news overall. It’s a reflection on how universities have dealt with the pandemic.”