Brighton University has hit back at a report which claims education cuts could force it to merge with another university or close altogether.
The University and College Union has included the universities in a list of institutions it estimates are at “high-medium risk” based on reliance on public funding, the proportion of public funding an institution receives for ‘non-priority’ subjects, the number of students from the poorest backgrounds, and an institution’s reliance on non-EU students’ fees.
The union has also estimated that Brighton University students will end up having to pay £6,931 in fees each year – and Sussex University students £6,513.
But the university has dismissed the report as “simplistic” and says there is no danger of merger or closure.
Professor Stuart Laing, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Brighton, said: “We are aware of the UCU report and understand its analysis. However, the conclusions that have been drawn from this analysis are simplistic and do not reflect the myriad of factors that influence the success of a university.
“In 2010 we received 41,000 applications, an unprecedented number and which placed us in the top 10 per cent of universities in the country.
“We are in the middle of a recruitment cycle for 2011 and already our applications are up 14 per cent on last year. This is against a national average of 11.5 per cent. We are confident that this reflects our reputation for delivering high quality, relevant courses that enable our graduates to pursue a range of careers.
“The University of Brighton has also had real success in a number of other areas including research and collaborative work with business and industry. As a result of the combination of these factors and consistently sound financial management, the university sits comfortably in the top third of the Security Index which measures the financial stability of institutions.
“The city of Brighton and Hove is fortunate to have two strong universities on its doorstep. There is a history of the two universities working together on such initiatives as the joint medical school.
“We strongly believe that there are many benefits to retaining two successful universities, each with its own distinctive profile, and there is no question as to whether the two universities will merge.”
A spokesman for Brighton University said it was too early to be specific about fees. The University of Sussex says applications are still rising significantly, with 22% coming from poorer families and 88% from state schools.
It says it wants to give places according to ability to benefit, not pay, and its fee levels for 2012 will be set accordingly next year.
It added: “Under the new fee regime being discussed, Government teaching grant is to be massively cut, so the great majority of fee income would simply replace existing taxpayer funding.
“However, students paying more over their lifetime will expect more from universities, irrespective of whether total funding for universities goes up or down.
“Any net growth in funding at Sussex would be invested in further improving the student experience.”
The UCU list graded the universities it considered most at risk into very high, high, or high-medium risk categories.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “In reality, more than one in three of England’s universities could find themselves in real trouble once the landscape of higher education changes and funding cuts bite. The worst-case scenario is closure – something university leaders and the business secretary have both acknowledged is a possibility.
“Universities are a major player in their local economies, creating masses of jobs on and off campus, and generating revenue through any number of related small businesses. Their impact reaches far beyond students and lecturers – they are wealth-creators for communities.”