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No more room at the inn?

Only one in four new university degree courses draw enough students to stay on the table. However, this statistic presents progress as the original Innovation in the Market Assurance of New Programmes (i-Map) project in 2009 showed that just one in ten degree courses recruited at least 10 students to be sustainable. Although progress has doubled in the last five years, is it enough?

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) stated that only 28 percent of new course programmes enticed students to want to sign up, one in four new degrees courses attract enough students. Paul Coyle, a former pro-vice chancellor told the Times Higher Education magazine “Although we have seen improvements and the success rate appears to have gone up, it is an inescapable fact that the figure has to get higher”.

In the original project, the minimum number of students who signed up to an undergraduate course to make it ‘viable’ would be between 15-30. Sixty-seven percent of institution staff that responded to the survey said that their university or college used an approval process for new programs, which allowed senior staff or managers to step in and cancel plans if a course looked unlikely to be successful. Only 15 percent of respondents stated that new courses were launched in advance of the recruitment cycle – which can be critical for recruitment success.

David Mackintosh, a senior deputy vice-chancellor at Kingston University said ‘As the external context is changing, the need to make the portfolio more effective by taking a more considered, evidence-based approach to generating new provision is becoming more apparent’. This is vital to engage potential and current students within their studies and to allow them to study what is going on in the world around them.

The survey also showed that business or creative arts programmes were most likely to be launched, however, they were also the same areas that had the most closures even though they Art courses tend to cost the university less to run.

Although the concern for introducing new degree programmes is still at the forefront of academic minds, student satisfaction remains high. 86 percent of undergraduate students stated they were satisfied overall with their degree course at university. The National Student Survey (NSS) which had more than 300,000 final year students respond to the survey, covers all areas of higher education; from feedback and assessment, organisation and management of the course, the academic course itself, to learning resources and personal development.

Professor Madeleine Atkins, the Chief Executive of Hefce said ‘The survey provides detailed and robust data which is used extensively by universities and colleges to improve their teaching and learning’ and provides valuable support for prospective students in helping them choose which higher education institution to attend.

The Unistats website which gathers the NSS statistics and relays relevant information for students, teachers and institutions displayed that 87 percent of students were satisfied with the teaching on their course, and 79 per cent were happy with the organisation and management. These results show that students are happy with the courses that universities already provide – which have been tried, tested and passed with flying colours.

However, as students are more than happy with their studies and what they are learning whilst at university, the question is; how long can the long-standing courses stay contemporary and engaging?