Where are the 16-18 year-olds?

Survey of more than 100 colleges reveals shocking student shortfalls

Colleges are facing a significant 16-18 recruitment shortfall, a survey obtained by FE Week suggests.

An online survey conducted by the funding consultancy Lsect and publisher of FE Week, and completed by more than 100 further education (FE) colleges and sixth forms, reported major shortfalls in actual recruitment of 16-18 year-olds for 2011/12 compared to target figures.

Although many responders said  they can recruit more 16-18 year-olds in the coming weeks, the current recruitment shortfall is 20,319.

Among those include Leeds City College – the UK’s third largest FE establishment – who say they are currently 1,000 students behind their learner recruitment target for this academic year.

Debbie Fletcher, vice principal 14-19 at the college, said the government’s decision to axe the education maintenance allowance (EMA) – a payment scheme for 16 to 19-year-olds whose families are on low-level income – may have had an impact.

However, she also said schools had been marketing their courses better.

She said: “Looking at the profile in terms of possible causes, we may be down in more disadvantaged areas so there may be an EMA impact. It’s cheaper for someone to stay at their local school then go to college.

We think it’s (the EMA) a contributing factor, but we also think schools are marketing harder to keep them.”

She also said the college is working hard to get closer to target, including a number of events to attract students, such as workshops during Colleges Week later this month, while also revamping their curriculum.

City College Norwich (CCN) is also slightly down on its target.

Principal Dick Palmer said: “Our targets are just over 5,000 and we are currently running at around 4,850, including planned later starts.

“We are confident we can do more ‘later starts’ and make up the shortfall but it is certainly more of an issue than in other years.”

He added: “One interesting component in this is that a large part of our shortfall is in A level recruitment, around 100.”

Although Mr Palmer said it is “too early to tell”, he said there could be a number of reasons.

These, he said, include financial pressure on schools to retain sixth formers, impact of the EMA cut, worries over the loss of post-16 transport subsidies and growth in local conversions of schools into academies.

He also believes the increasing higher education fees in 2012 could be putting off some A levels students.

However, Maxine Room, principal at Lewisham College, said the college is expecting to meet targets, despite an increase capacity on last year.

She said: “As we are a major vocational provider in south-east London, we felt we could increase our target this year to benefit more learners.

“However, we have had to put more marketing resources in place to reach those targets.”

A spokesperson for the Association of Colleges (AoC) said they are carrying out a study to “understand enrolment patterns” in its membership.

She said: “It would be premature to anticipate the findings before the results are in and before the end of an enrolment period that has been extended by many colleges.”

However, she added: “Anecdotally it’s a very mixed picture – there are colleges who have enrolled to capacity and others reporting issues.

“Where colleges are currently experiencing a shortfall there could be a very wide range of factors in play, including the loss of the EMA, confusion about the new replacement bursaries and fewer students looking to go to university in the wake of higher tuition fees, but again it is too early to tell without more detailed feedback.”

Download the raw survey data by clicking here.