Results from the 2021 Chartered ABS Annual Membership Survey

This year’s edition of the survey covers critical topics affecting the UK business school sector including student recruitment, staff planning, strategic priorities and finances, and research funding. The results show UK business schools demonstrating financial stability and strong performance in student recruitment despite a very challenging 18 months. Also evident is a strategic focus towards putting students first and responding to key societal issues such as EDI and mental health. The legacy of Brexit is reflected in the results with the sector experiencing difficulties in recruiting students and staff from the EU.

Highlights from the survey are provided below and the full results can be viewed here.


Putting students and teaching first

Overall, 96% of Business and Management undergraduate students, and 88% of postgraduate students, are receiving in-person teaching either as part of fully face-to-face courses or blended courses.

Business schools’ strategic priorities and areas of investment this year and next year are focused on students and teaching. Student satisfaction was by some margin the most frequently cited strategic priority, with blended/hybrid/online learning delivery the third highest priority. This will be underpinned by recruiting and investing in staff, as 53% of the responding schools plan some increase in headcount for the current academic year.

Schools are also increasing investment in their digital estate over their built estate - just over three-quarters of the respondents reported an increase in their investment in online learning infrastructure for the current academic year.


Focusing on societal issues

Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion was cited as the joint third highest strategic priority by the participating schools and 66% have dedicated in-house professional services staff to support EDI. 72% of the responding schools stated that they had increased their investment in mental health services for students in the current academic year and 57% have increased their spending in mental health services for staff. Furthermore, 64% of schools have dedicated in-house professional services staff to support wellbeing.


Financial stability and strong student recruitment

Financial stability for the sector is vital following the past 18 months of the pandemic, ongoing uncertainty, and a need to support university finances as a whole. The actual financial performance of business schools in 2020/21 – the first full year impacted by the pandemic - was quite robust despite the disruption. Just over two-thirds of the business schools participating in the survey reported increased income compared to 2019/20 and the outlook for 2021/22 is also optimistic, with 74% expecting increased income compared to 2020/21.

The results show that student recruitment is steady or increased in the majority of schools, particularly from UK and non-EU international markets. For UK undergraduate students 70% of responding schools saw a relatively unchanged or increased conversion rate from application to enrolment for undergraduate students, and 74% had stable or increasing conversion rates for postgraduate students. For recruitment of non-EU international students a very strong performance from UK business schools for the current academic year is evident despite the on-going disruption caused by Covid-19, with most schools seeing an increase in enrolments of new non-EU international students, particularly for postgraduate courses.


A Brexit effect on student and staff recruitment?

 Whilst enrolment of non-EU international students went up in most schools, three-quarters recorded a lower number of new enrolments from the EU and very few schools saw any type of increase. In addition, 51% of schools found it more difficult to recruit international academic staff this year compared to previous years and the impact of the UK leaving the EU was frequently cited by those respondents who had described the difficulties their institution had encountered.


Professor Robert MacIntosh, Chair of the Chartered ABS said: "This year’s annual members’ survey gives an important insight to this key part of the university sector. The results point to the resilience of business schools which have delivered better than expected financial results, continue to experience strong student recruitment and are delivering very high levels of in-person teaching. There are also clear signals that business schools are actively addressing equality, diversity and inclusion issues and improving student mental health services."