(Last updated on: 10/12/2020)
We live in an era where there is a real possibility that a university might go bust. Universities have become businesses, where commercial interests outweigh community welfare. And as with any other business, if they don’t make enough profit, they will inevitably go bust.
Last week I discussed what happens to students if a university goes bust, which is a very common question in this time of uncertainty. Many people assume that the Government will step in to help, but we have repeatedly been told that this will not be the case. So if universities going bust is a real concern, then surely prospective students should be looking for the tell-take signs that a university might go bust when decided where to undertake their studies.
Tell-tale signs that a university might go bust
Here are some of the key tell-tale signs to look out for:
Reduced student numbers
One of the most obvious ways to tell if a university might go bust is to look at the student numbers. If they are in decline then this is a sure fire sign that things aren’t looking up for the university in question.
Now you won’t always find this information on the Internet or in the prospectus, but if you go to an open day you will be able to probe the staff and ask questions in this regard. I recommend that you investigate not only overall student numbers for the university, but also student numbers for the course that you are particularly interested in. If the course numbers aren’t what the university hope for then the few students who did intend to study there could be let down at the last minute- you don’t want this to happen to you!
Reduced student services
In times of financial hardship universities will start to reduce student services. This might include enrichment activities such as funded trips or clubs. It could also include facilities that provide additional learning support. Support post-graduation is also one of the first areas to often be cut, with some universities almost getting rid of their careers service departments entirely.
When any business is struggling financially they are likely to make staff cut backs and this is no exception when a university might go bust. You are likely to be able to find out about cuts in staff in local newspapers or such like, but the reality is that you won’t always know if there have been redundancies. In some businesses staff seem to simply disappear… only for you to find out months down the line that they were actually part of yet another redundancy scheme.
Lack of staff recruitment
A university that might go bust is likely to cut back on hiring new staff. They may even have a recruitment freeze. As a potential student you might not realise this, but there are some give-away signs. You can look at the staff profiles on the website- is anybody new? You can also keep an eye on the recruitment site to see if any vacancies are being advertised. Lastly, look for discrepancies between the staff that you encounter on open days etc and the staff listed on the website- this may indicate that the people who you meet/hear about might be employed on an hourly basis as opposed to being recruited as a permanent staff member. This is another tell-tale sign that a university is cost-saving and might go bust in the future.
Many companies at risk of going bust will restructure. This may include changing departments/schools/faculties around, changing job titles and merging departments. Take a look at a range of documentation at the university. Does the handbook from a couple of years ago show the same structure as the current one, for example? You can usually find documents such as this Online if you look for them.
Reduced course offering
Has the university cut the number of courses that they are offering? You may have seen a course previously advertised but now noticed that it has since vanished. You can also compare an old prospectus with a newer one if you can get your hands on one. Another way to compare courses is to look at ex-student profiles on Linkedin. They will commonly list the title of their degree- does this still exist now? If not then this is a sign that the university might go bust.
Sale of land or property
Universities that are struggling may resort to selling off areas of land or property. They may also sell off land that was previously used as a car park or for recreation space. If the university has invested in these areas then it often indicates the opposite- they are probably doing ok financially for the time-being.
Radical new approaches
Lastly, it is worthwhile taking a look to see if the university in question has invested in any new or radical approaches. Have they all of a sudden started offering post-graduate provision? Maybe they have a new focus on Higher Level Apprenticeships? Perhaps new departments have opened up whilst other have closed? This is another sure fire sign that the university is trying hard to avoid financial hardship and to revitalise their income streams. Another suggestion that the university might go bust.
Do you think your university might go bust? What tell-tale signs have you seen?