Former polytechnics and colleges struggle to survive, with disadvantaged students hit hardest by campus closures and job cuts
Academics in Crewe are waiting in limbo. The campus, which is run by Manchester Metropolitan University, is the main centre for higher education in south Cheshire. But in February it was confirmed it would close in the summer of 2019, with 160 academic jobs at risk, and this week those academics will stage a two-day walkout in protest.
Students have been told they can finish their degrees, but many worry their lecturers will not be around to teach them. Unless the closure is reversed, the campus, which has 100 years of history, will become a ghost town. Welcome to life at the sharp end of the market revolution in English higher education.
The atmosphere among staff is grim, said a senior academic from Crewe. “People are suffering from stress, anxiety and depression. People who haven’t had a day off in 20 years, now they’re taking two, three, four days off because they can’t really cope.”
They aren’t alone. Across the country, universities are preparing for hundreds of redundancies as they deal with ferocious competition, Brexit and the launch of the government’s official “gold, silver and bronze” league table.
Figures seen by the Observer show that already some universities are struggling. Between 2011 and 2015 the number of young students starting full-time courses at Russell Group universities grew by 15%, while the number of entrants to MillionPlus institutions, which represent former polytechnics and colleges, shrank by 22.9%. The analysis, which looked at broad trends, found the number of students starting at University Alliance, which represents those focusing on local business links, and smaller specialist universities, fell by 3.4% and 7.1% respectively.