Reputation of universities becoming more important to students

The rise in tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 has led prospective students to become more selective about the reputation of their chosen university, new Ucas figures suggest.

Each year the admissions body surveys about 12,000 applicants about their reasons for declining university offers, and over the past two years the number turning down offers based on the academic reputation of a university has risen sharply and now accounts for about 30% of all offers that are not accepted.

Academic reputation has become the third most cited reason students opt not to take up a place they are offered, behind course content and distance from home, according to Ucas’ annual end of cycle report, published last week. Prior to 2010, students put factors such as social life and unrealistic entry requirements higher than an institution’s standing.

Overall, the number of students beginning university courses in 2012 fell by 6% on the previous year, the largest drop in acceptances ever recorded, according to Ucas. But the 27,000 drop in total new student numbers was not spread evenly across the country’s institutions.

London Metropolitan University, which suffered huge damage to its reputation last summer when its right to sponsor international students was revoked by the UK Border Agency, suffered the biggest fall in student numbers for 2012, with admissions dropping to 4,079 from 7,209 the previous year.

Other universities reported as taking in significantly lower student numbers were the University of Southampton, where acceptances fell by 13%, and the Universities of Liverpool and Sheffield, both of which saw numbers fall about 10%.  

However, other universities reported a rise in recruitment, many having reaped the benefits of last year’s policy change that allowed universities to recruit an unlimited number of students who had achieved grades of at least AAB at A-level.

At the University of Bristol, admissions were up almost 30%, while University College London, Cardiff University and King’s College London also took in significant numbers of additional students.

According to Ucas, the average tuition fee for 2012 was £8,389, although half of the acceptances were for courses where the tuition fee was set at the maximum level of £9,000.