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The demographic tsunami heading for UK universities

Chinas universities just suffered a drop in enrolments – for the third year running. The reason is the one-child policy that is shrinking the population of young adults. But a demographic study shows that the UK faces similar problems.

Take a look at the population structure of the UK:


In this chart from the ONS for mid-2009 males are on the left, age in years is up the middle, females are on the right and the scale is in thousands of people. What it implies is that, starting pretty much now, the core market for universities, the population of 18-24 year olds in the UK, is embarking on a sharp 10-year decline before staging a modest recovery. Immigration (if permitted) can make up some of the deficit, but not nearly enough to stop universities feeling the squeeze.

Add to that a trend towards live-at-home students as high tuition fees bite, and the threat to UK universities that happen to be in the wrong place looks serious – however brilliant their courses.

Demographics even in booming China are hurting universities. Now the tsunami is on its way here.

In 2008, Universities UK looked at the demographic trends and identified specially acute problems in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But so much has changed since then, it probably needs to look again.