Universities across England are facing record fines after breaching rules on student recruitment.

More than 20 institutions have been penalised by the  Higher Education Funding Council for England after contravening regulations that limit the number of places available at universities.

It is estimated that an excess of 25,000 students were recruited last year, resulting in fines that could total £90m.

Alhough over recruitment was a problem at many universities last year, it is unlikely that Oxford will fall foul of recruitment regulations.

An Oxford spokesperson noted, “Oxford has never been in a position where this has been an issue. We have had the same number of places available for a long time. A lot of the over recruitment issues have to do with the Clearing process, and Oxford doesn’t take part in Clearing. When we make offers, very few people tend not to accept their offers, so we can control our offers, and we know and take very seriously our number constraints.”

In contrast, London Metropolitan University was fined £5.9m for recruiting 1,550 more students than its government target.

An email circulated to Met’s staff from Vice-Chancellor Malcolm Gillies acknowledged that there were problems within the university’s recruitment system, stating, “Our planning assumptions were flawed and our decision-making sometimes based on incomplete information. This was compounded by the fact that we were seeking to recruit 50 per cent of our intake through Clearing, far higher than our competitors.

‘Over recruitment occurred, in part, because the university honoured outstanding offers and commitments, as it has always done, but should not have done at a time of unprecedented acceptance rates on these offers.”

Gillies emphasised that London Met’s over recruitment had been accidental, writing, “In consequence of the volatility of admissions for 2011/12 during Clearing many English universities unintentionally over-recruited.  London Metropolitan University exceeded its allocation of 4,873 by 1,550 places.”

However he stated that the fine would have little effect, since the university had already received the additional tuition fees from the extra students they recruited. He suggested that the net loss was likely to be closer to £700,000.

Despite the over recruitment of 25,000 students last year, 170,000 still failed to gain a university place.