Deputy Vice Chancellor, Andrew Atherton, has admitted that “application numbers are down” for this year, blaming increased A-level tariffs across numerous university courses for the change.
Speaking to SCAN about the University’s admissions, Atherton also stated that there had too often been an attitude of “if we don’t get enough Home-EU students, we get more international students in” regarding to the new student intake.
Atherton believes that the drop in application numbers not necessarily a negative but reflects the ambitions of the University. “Application numbers are down. One main reason for this is that, across many courses, we have increased the A-level tariff, and by looking at these high quality students we are therefore looking at a smaller pool of students.” He recognised that similar universities have seen this decline in applicants as a “standard characteristic” when they raise the bar regarding entrance requirements.
Last year’s overall first year undergraduate intake was more than 3200 students. The Deputy Vice Chancellor admitted that, although this years figures are yet to be determined, “they might be slightly down, but not significantly.”
He explained that “last year was our largest ever year for recruitment, more than 3200 undergraduate intake last year. There is not a significant recruitment problem because over the long-term there have been consistently growing numbers. We don’t know how many students we will have yet, as induction is yet to take place, it is just projected that it will be close to last year’s figures. It’s a very variable market so what we have been seeing recently is very positive when look at the larger trend of growth. It is clear Lancaster is growing as a University.”
Atherton went on to address the large part played by Lancaster’s growing international student population with regards to admissions, believing that it had too often been considered secondary to the Home-EU students at the University.
“We need to re-see the way we look at international students because then the difference will start to fade away. If we are a high class establishment we are going get many students from all over the world. Unfortunately there seemed to be an attitude of ‘if we don’t get enough Home-EU students, we get more international students in.’ This isn’t how it should work.
“It’s not a trade off between overseas students and Home-EU students, we recognize that overseas students are a big, important part of the intake. The total intake of students is more important than those separate figures. If you look at us compared to other similar uni’s, our international intake is not quite as high, although we are seeing a lot of international student growth.”
President Laura Clayson has also stressed the huge benefits of international students that need to be more widely appreciated. “It highlights the fact that Lancaster is seen as an institution with increasing global appeal. It is a huge positive because Overseas students are an asset to the student community. Their presence on campus increases cultural exchange within the student body and offers home students the chance to expand their horizons through interacting with people with different perspectives on global issues.”
In conversation with SCAN, Atherton also stated the growing importance of recruitment of students through clearing and adjustment. “Clearing and adjustment offers a fantastic range for students so there are use it for ‘shopping around’ to make sure they get the best degree they can.
“This is starting to become a more common feature. You will now see almost every university, except Oxford and Cambridge, with places available in clearing. It’s understandable really. Remember when you applied through UCAS. The process started in September/October, you would receive offers around January, have made your decisions by May and then only find out where you are going in August. You find out which uni you have got into about 11 months after first looking so there is plenty of scope for change over that period.”
Clayson, however, sees the negative aspect of recruitment in this manner; “clearing did make up the numbers so there is cause for concern.” She went on to say that “I think it is consequential of the amount of competition there is between universities to attract students. From my perspective going to university has become more of a difficult decision to make due to £9000 fees, as well as the increasing cost of living. As a Union this presents a number of challenges, so we must ensure we remain relevant and representative of the student body. As an institution we need to shout louder about all the exciting things we have on offer here.”
Atherton agrees that since the introduction of higher fees the attitudes of prospective students has changed when considering applications for university, believing that this has led many to use clearing and adjustment to its fullest. “There are a lot of very good students in clearing every year. You want to be want to be 100 percent sure you’re going to the right place, so people are checking again that they have made the right decision.
“I predict there will be about five-10 percent of people that will select through clearing. You will get people that are confident enough to wait, knowing there will be plenty of options on offer and then say to the uni’s, “Hi, I’ve got three A’s.” It’s putting much more power in their hands.”
Mark Garnett, Senior Lecturer in Politics has seen 2014’s admissions period in a largely positive light despite the subject’s decreasing Home-EU contingent. “As for Politics and IR, we are down on Home and EU but up in the ‘overseas’ category, so that it’s a satisfactory picture. University-wide, I’d say that we don’t have anything like a crisis of recruitment – rather, applicant numbers tend to fluctuate depending on whether or not we’re in the UK’s top ten.
“However, compared to previous years Admissions Tutors are now experiencing a very welcome level of support from the centre in terms of recruitment efforts; and, whereas in the recent past government policy tended to encourage us to be a bit too inflexible in the offers we made (ie, concentrating on ABB and above), University House is a lot more realistic now, and, I hope, now see the wisdom of returning to the policy on Admissions which made Lancaster such a successful and diverse institution in the first place.”
To ensure Lancaster is recognised for being a successful institution there has been a growing focus on the marketing of the University. The recent change of logo, from a chaplaincy-orientated design to a shield design, as well as changes to the university website are two ways in which the University has been keen to establish this image.
Andrew Atherton said of these changes, “we’re improving the website, trying to use it to get students to see why Lancaster is great. We have also obviously changed the logo, which we did using a lot of feedback. We looked at universities such as York, Exeter and Warwick and they all had shields. When people looked at the logos ours was noticeably different, and although when you’re eighteen you obviously don’t focus on the logo, it does impact someone’s image of a university.”
Marketing the University and representing it “to show how much we put into providing a positive student experience here at Lancaster” is something Clayson feels is an important factor in attracting ambitious, new students. For new students this year at Lancaster, Clayson feels it is integral to continue this positive student experience.
“It’s a great time to become a student at Lancaster University because we have lots of plans as a Union for increasing engagement with our members, be that through sport, the societies and clubs we host here on campus or increasing engagement through the democratic structures that exist such as the Colleges and Union Council. Our scoring on the National Student Survey has increased to 72% (71% in previous years) and we hope that by ensuring we continue to champion the rights of our members and represent them on the issues that most concern them we can remain relevant and sustain, if not improve, upon this scoring.
“Lancaster has a very welcoming community feel to it and I think this allows our members to meet people from a diverse range of backgrounds that they wouldn’t necessarily get outside of a University setting. We will demand representation on the issues that affect our membership. If ever students wanted to be part of something big, now is the time to get involved, get politicised, and make their voices heard.”