In contrast, Birkbeck recorded a record increase in applications for our three-year intensive evening programmes, with applications up from 451 last year to 1,142. Of course, these are relatively small numbers but they do vindicate our decision to introduce these intensive programmes two years ago and to progressively increase the number available. Clearly, these programmes will make an increasing contribution to our enrolments in future years.
In contrast to our three-year programmes, for which applicants apply early via UCAS, it is still very early days for our standard four-year part-time degree programmes, with most prospective students normally applying much later in the year. At the moment however, the number of students applying for these programmes is lower than the record 2011-12 applications cycle, although it is currently similar to the levels recorded at the same time in the 2010-11 applications cycle.
If this trend continues, the College will have a smaller number of undergraduates entering in 2012-13 compared to the bumper year of 2011-12. However, our financial projections indicate that this level of recruitment will suffice to allow the College to remain financially viable and continue to develop.
However, we need to take urgent and ongoing action to ensure that we maintain and, if possible, enhance our position. Firstly, it is of vital importance that we encourage enquirers to apply and convert as many applications as possible into actual enrolments. This means that Schools need to make offers as rapidly as possible and to provide prospective students with all the appropriate information allowing them to enrol. This is obviously important not only at undergraduate level but also at postgraduate level where our prospective students both home and international may well have applied to a number of competing institutions. I am very encouraged to see that the level of offers being made is up on the same point in the 2011-12 cycle and we need to maintain this momentum.
A vital factor for students deciding whether to apply and subsequently whether to enrol is a clear understanding of how the new financial systems will work and the level of financial support which is available. We have clear evidence that the finance pages of our website are being visited by much larger numbers of students than in previous years. This is obviously connected with the increased fees for our courses, coupled with the availability of loans for part-time students which were not available in previous years. It is clear that such loans are absolutely essential for the vast majority of our students if they are to study with us. It is, therefore, essential that prospective students are fully informed about their availability and the fact that they are not contingent on their income. Information for staff dealing with student queries is available on line. However, if you do not feel able to answer particular queries, then you simply need to inform the students about where to get such information. This includes not only our website but the regular Thursday evening events held by the Student Centre as well as the potential for individual discussions with the Student Finance team.
The rules for eligibility are relatively simple, students must be UK/EU, be studying at 25% intensity or more and must not intend to study for an equivalent or lesser qualification (ELQ) to one which they hold already. There are no age or income restrictions on loan availability. These simple eligibility rules are the basis of our launching “Our promise to students”. Thus, if we indicate that a student is eligible for a loan, Birkbeck staff will not only assist the student in applying to the Student Loans Company (SLC) but Birkbeck will undertake not to pursue students for their fees, however long it takes the SLC to process their application.
This is only one of many initiatives we are introducing to ensure that any student who wishes to study with us is enabled to do so. However, we need all staff to work together to ensure that applications are processed as quickly as possible, as well as helping to make sure that students are fully aware of the available support. If we all work together as we did in previous years when we lost 40% of our teaching funding due to the withdrawal of funding for ELQ students, we can ensure that our unique brand of research-led part-time evening teaching is available to all who can benefit.
Professor David S. Latchman, CBE