An update on our student recruitment position

With two weeks until A level results day, Professor Wyn Morgan extends a big thank you to everyone involved in student recruitment activity. He shares an update on applications and explains what we are doing to give students confidence that we are one of the best places to study in the UK.

Dear colleague

As a university we are doing everything we can to ensure that students receive the best possible education when they arrive here in the autumn.

Colleagues across the University are working tirelessly to put in place an outstanding blended learning environment. Thank you so much for your considerable efforts. We now have two weeks until A-level results day – please do continue to do all that you can to support student recruitment and communicate Sheffield’s distinct offer.

What do we know at the moment?

We have now reached the end of the main student recruitment cycle and I am therefore in a position to share with you an update on applications.

  • Home undergraduate accepted offers are currently down by two per cent.
  • Overseas undergraduate applications are up 24 per cent compared to last year, with accepted offers up by 25 per cent. We have also seen an increase in the number of undergraduate applicants registering with the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) this year.
  • Postgraduate taught home applications are 12 per cent above last year’s levels. This recent growth suggests applicants may be considering further study next year, possibly as a result of a less certain graduate jobs market.
  • Postgraduate taught overseas applications remain up on last year, as are offers and accepts. However, the rate of new applications has slowed and we have received 16 per cent fewer tuition fee deposit payments than at this stage last year, showing there is still a level of uncertainty around the international markets.
  • Postgraduate research home applications are four per cent down on the same time last year, while accepted offers are 11 per cent above that of the previous cycle, which is a welcome sign considering the uncertainty around funding.
  • Postgraduate research overseas applications are below last year’s level with wide variation across faculties and departments.

Here at Sheffield we, therefore, have a very mixed picture. There are encouraging signs in some areas of recruitment, but there is ongoing uncertainty around whether students will eventually choose to go to university this year, or indeed if they are able to go, due to restrictions around travel and movement. Students can withdraw at any time and so we will not know our final student recruitment numbers until the beginning of term. For undergraduate students this will be at the end of September and for postgraduate taught this will be in October.

Based on admissions forecasting and current intelligence we are working to a 10 per cent reduction in undergraduate and postgraduate taught home, a 40 per cent reduction in undergraduate overseas and a 60 per cent reduction in postgraduate taught overseas students.

What are we doing?

The coming weeks and months will be critical. While there are so many factors out of our control, we will do everything in our power to provide clarity to our students and instil confidence that we are one of the best places to study in the UK. We know that our research-led programmes will continue to inspire, enthuse and challenge our students and equip them to stand out as global citizens.

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone that has been involved in student recruitment activity. There has been a mammoth effort across the University.

We are streamlining processes and providing bespoke support as far as we are able to. This includes being flexible about start dates. We have already made the decision to move the start date for the majority of postgraduate programmes and we continue to communicate this with our applicants.

We are exploring ways in which we can capitalise on those considering further study due to the uncertain job market over the coming weeks and months, including with our own undergraduate students who may be considering continuation onto postgraduate study. We’ve already introduced a new Alumni Rewards scheme for all our alumni starting a postgraduate taught course in autumn 2020, meaning that Sheffield graduates are entitled to a discount on their tuition fees.

We have been communicating and engaging with our applicants and offer holders to explain how we are preparing for the new academic year with details about how we are adapting our teaching and how we’re making our University a safe place to live and study.

We have also delivered a number of digital events to reassure and encourage international offer holders to accept their place of study; over 3,300 international offer holders have taken part in live sessions via the international offer holder hub, where colleagues across the University have delivered subject, country and central sessions. We have seen high levels of engagement through our international and home offer holder groups.

Our clearing campaign is underway. This year we are running a digital campaign targeting prospective students and parent audiences on Google Search, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and TikTok. Clearing can be a positive opportunity for both home and international recruitment. However, it is important to note that clearing is likely to be highly competitive this year and that intake could be reduced as institutions accept more of their firm offer holders. We have also been making the case about the value of going to university via the media.

Why is the market so uncertain?

Student fees make up a significant proportion of our income. Forty-six per cent of our income is made up of course fees and almost half of this comes from our international students. If we see a reduction in student numbers, this will have serious consequences for our finances and any decline in undergraduate numbers would, of course, be felt for three to four years. Fewer students on campus would also mean declines in residential, catering and sports income.

There are numerous factors at play that could prevent international students from coming. Firstly there is the issue of students getting their qualifications and visas on time. Then there is the issue of whether they will be able to get here. According to a recent British Council survey, there could be anything between 12 and 61 per cent fewer enrolments from East Asia in 2020-2021, compared to the 2018-19 academic year.

Across the world, we have seen a gradual lifting of pandemic-related restrictions. However, Covid-19 is still spreading and this could mean potential border closures, restrictions to movement, flight delays and further quarantines being put in place. These restrictions can be implemented rapidly and change immediate travel plans.

Here in the UK, scientists are warning of a possible second wave of the pandemic. While the government has said it is doing all it can to avoid another national lockdown, there is a risk of local lockdowns, like that seen in Leicester. This would have potential implications for both home and international students.

We also need to be mindful of some of the concerns that students may have about coming to university this year. Some students may be wary of leaving home, they may have concerns about the blended learning approach and they may be worried about what their overall student experience will be like. While confidence is improving steadily in line with what is happening in the UK, current intelligence suggests there remains some nervousness amongst students in committing to study in the current uncertain environment.

I hope you have found this update helpful.

I want to thank everyone involved who is working hard to prepare for our next academic year. I have been truly impressed by the dedication and hard work of colleagues across our entire University community.

With best wishes,

Wyn Morgan

Vice-President for Education