Fees 'had little impact on demand to join Plymouth University'
PLYMOUTH University is riding the storm of higher tuition fees and other education reforms, says a university boss.
Government cuts of about 30,000 student places have had a minimal impact on the university, Jane Chafer, the university's head of external relations, said.
And she believed the new £9,000 tuition fees have had only a small effect.
With only days to go before the start of the academic year, the university has 100 unfilled places for UK students out of more than 4,000.
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She said most of those were because of students offered a place deciding instead to take a gap year.
Southampton University reported this week that it was unable to fill 600 places.
"We saw a similar effect in 2005 when the £3,000 tuition fee was brought in," Ms Chafer said.
There were about 23,000 applications for places to start this autumn.
"In 2010 we had a really good year, with a five per cent increase in applications."
There was a big 23 per cent increase in 2011, followed by a five per cent fall last year, compared with a national average of eight per cent.
Meanwhile, international students have helped Plymouth.
"Applications from abroad were up about 40 per cent, and this will translate into a 20 per cent increase in enrolment.
The recent row over student visas had not affected Plymouth University, she said. "We have a robust system in place."
The majority of non-EU students are from China, Turkey, India, Malaysia and the Middle East.
Earlier this month a row erupted after it had emerged that the government watchdog Ofqual had ordered the exam board Edexcel to raise grade boundaries in English, with the result that many students failed to get the results they expected.
The university was quick to spot the looming row. In common with all universities, it saw the exam results days before the students did.
"It was clear something odd had happened in the A level results," Ms Chafer said. "A large number were poorer than the year before. Then the next day the Government explained the grade boundary levelling.
"We were relieved that the whole student body hadn't gone mad."
The university got about 5,000 inquiries for clearing – the period when students who haven't achieved good enough results to get into their first-choice course shop around for a place.
"We went into clearing for about 400 spaces – less than 10 per cent of the intake and about the norm."
Some universities have had to drop their requirements for students on some courses as low as two Ds, but Ms Chafer said Plymouth generally did not go below three Cs or the equivalent.
Two years ago the university dropped its much-mocked "Surfing degree".
The best parts of that course have been absorbed into a new Marine Sports Science degree, she said. It was ironic that the Surf Science degree was criticised, because students on that course went on to achieve 100per cent employability.
This year is the last intake of students for the joint Plymouth/Exeter Peninsula School of Medicine and Dentistry. From September 2013 would-be students will have to choose between Plymouth or Exeter.