Despite high levels of uncertainty, finance directors in the higher education sector plan to increase expenditure and investment, according to a survey by Deloitte released as universities compete to fill places following the publication of A level results last week.
Nine out of ten (92%) FDs said that their university faces an above normal level of financial uncertainty, with factors such as regulatory change, competition from new providers, future funding and student numbers causing concern.
However, half (47%) say now is a good time to put risk onto their balance sheets, as FDs look to invest to maintain their competitive position, and only 6% feel the level of financial risk on the balance sheet has increased significantly in the past twelve months. Deloitte says this is a significant change in what has traditionally been a 'relatively prudent' sector.
The survey also identifies the top three priorities for university FDs as increasing capital expenditure (95% said this was 'somewhat of a priority' or a 'strong priority'); increasing philanthropic income (75%); and increasing student numbers (72%).
Julie Mercer, head of education consulting at Deloitte, said: 'While uncertainty still remains, there are now signs of a shift. Expansion, and how to fund it, is now a big priority for higher education. Capital expenditure is needed to underpin the expansion of student numbers, support research, meet the demands of the 21st century learning environment and compete in an increasingly global higher education sector.'