There are signs, though, notably in England, that recent higher education reforms might well change this nice, secure picture quite substantially. A fascinating article by Simon Baker in last week's Times Higher Education explains the nature of the problem. Essentially, the riskiness of the sector is expected to increase, as several factors come together:
- The shift to funding through higher student fees and reduced direct grants from HEFCE makes institutional income much more sensitive to home and EU student numbers - and hence success in recruiting students - than was the case in the past;
- The new UK visa regime, combined with tougher competition from other providers, makes recruitment of overseas students harder and riskier than it was before;
- Demographic trends are not all that favourable, with the UK population of 'student age' declining in the coming years; of course, numbers can made up by recruiting mature students and by offering more flexible degree programmes, but there is nevertheless a risk factor here;
- HEFCE's role in regulating and monitoring universities is under review, and with less income flowing to universities through HEFCE in the future it is unclear how far HEFCE could underwrite all our higher education institutions as it is perceived to do at present.