THE UNIVERSITY OF EXETER has defended its recent rapid expansion amidst information compiled by Exeposé suggesting that the University’s growth could be detrimental to student experience.
Exeposé can also reveal that the total number of enrolled students at Exeter, 21,552, has grown by 3,600 students in three years (20.52 per cent), and 8,608 students in a decade (66.5 per cent). This growth has coincided with new builds such as the Forum and the renovations of Cornwall House and Devonshire House.
6,378 new undergraduates enrolled this year across all campuses and the total number of all students enrolling in 2013/14 was 9,698, constituting just under half of the current student body.
Data released in the Times Education Supplement (TES) has also shown that Exeter accepted 35 per cent more students in 2013 than in 2011. The University made at least 4,385 offers to potential undergraduates in 2013, in comparison to 3,255 in 2011, according to data compiled by UCAS. In terms of offers made, Exeter’s was the fifth largest growth of any university in the country.
Exeter’s increase in acceptances since 2012, a rise of 29 per cent, was also the highest in the Russell Group. The TES argues that: “comparing the 2013 acceptance figures with 2012 rather than 2011 offers a more timely indication of the most current trends”.
The figures cover offers made through the UCAS portal, and as such, are not final. The figures also do not constitute final intake numbers, as some students with offers may not have enrolled, but may still attend an institution that has made them an offer.
The comparison between 2011 and 2013 is particularly valuable because of the increase in undergraduate fees to £9,000 per academic year in 2011. Controls on how many offers each university could make were also relaxed in 2011.
Exeposé has previously reported on the effects of this student expansion. In October 2013 the University was forced to implement 600 places in “approved” external accommodation at UNITE and Printworks to house students, following both temporary and continued closures of halls. The University currently offers a total number of 2,356 University-owned accommodation spaces, 1,363 catered and 993 self-catered respectively.
An FOI request also demonstrated that the total number of prospective students who applied for University accommodation for the 2013/14 academic year was 7,162, alongside 672 returning students.
In addition to the on-campus accommodation difficulties, in November 2013 Exeter City Council planned to cap the number of Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMO), including student houses, in certain areas of the city including the St. James, Polsloe and St. David’s areas. It is thought that although the numbers of student houses were not being directly reduced, these plans may disperse student housing areas further away from the University.
Exeposé has also reported extensively on the University’s Wellbeing Services need for emergency funding in January, alongside the increase in waiting times. 718 students sought support from the Wellbeing Services last term, an increase of 38.8 per cent on the 517 students who did so in 2012/13. 2,324 appointments were issued in the term, approximately 700 more than during 2012/13.
A survey recently conducted by Exeposé on Student Experience demonstrated that students were concerned with congestion surrounding services. 76 per cent of the 151 survey respondents deemed the congestion surrounding library computers or free study spaces as either ‘slightly busy or inaccessible’ or ‘very busy or inaccessible’. 34 per cent stated it was ‘very busy or inaccessible”, while only 11 per cent deemed it ‘acceptable’, and just 4 per cent offering a positive response.
The number of hours available with tutors was also a concern among the students surveyed, as 38 per cent described their current allocation as ‘slightly too few’. 34 per cent deemed the current allocation as ‘acceptable’ and 17 per cent described it as ‘much too few’, leaving only 11 per cent that offered a positive response.
A University spokesperson commented: “The University of Exeter places huge importance on what our students think of their all-round experience. This continued investment in the student experience is reflected in the results of the National Student Survey (NSS), which are voted for by the students themselves.
We are proud that Exeter has consistently been placed in the Top 10 nationally every year since the launch of the NSS in 2005. In the most recent survey, more than 70 per cent of eligible students participated, which means that it gives a fair reflection of the campus experience for the whole student body.
This latest survey by Exeposé has a response rate of just 151, which is a tiny minority of the student body. Therefore is it difficult to interpret the data presented as being truly reflective.
By 2016, the University will have invested around £680 million on capital projects across its campuses, to meet the expectations of students, staff and visitors alike. This includes £80,000, for example, on creating 164 additional study spaces in and around the Forum Library. The iExeter app, which is available to all campus users, also shows the availability of PCs across the campus, which can help alleviate congestion around specific computer clusters, particularly at peak times”.
Hannah Barton, Guild President, commented: “The student experience is the Students’ Guild’s top priority and while growing student numbers are a mark of the University’s development and success, growth should not be allowed to impact on this. We continue to work closely with the University to monitor the effects of growing student numbers and to ensure that teaching provision, University services and facilities across all campuses are fit for purpose and meeting student needs”.
Additional reporting by Owen Keating, Meg Drewett and Jon Jenner