Are the New British Universities Congested?
This paper uses data envelopment analysis (DEA) to examine the issue of congestion in British universities. The focus of the paper is on 41 former polytechnics that became universities in 1992, and the analysis covers the period 1995/6 to 2003/4. These new universities differ from the older universities in many ways, especially in terms of their far higher student : staff ratios and substantially lower research funding per member of staff. The primary aim of the paper is to examine whether this under-resourcing of the new universities has led to ‘congestion’, in the sense that their output has been reduced as a result of having too many students. Three alternative methods of measuring congestion are examined and, to check the sensitivity of the results to different specifications, three alternative DEA models are formulated. The results reveal that a substantial amount of congestion was present throughout the period under review, and in a wide range of universities, but whether it rose or fell is uncertain, as this depends on which congestion model is used. The results indicate that an overabundance of undergraduate students was the largest single cause of congestion in the former polytechnics during the period under review. Less plausibly, the results also suggest that academic overstaffing was a major cause of congestion! By contrast, postgraduates and ‘other expenditure’ are found to play a noticeably smaller role in generating congestion.
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