Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Further cuts in higher education

The BBC reports the following here:

"[. . .] Universities in England face a 6% cut to this year's teaching budget, before their incomes increase from raised tuition fees in 2012. Teaching grants will be cut from £4.9bn to £4.6bn for 2011-2012, ministers said in the annual letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The government said higher fees could mean 10% more investment by 2014. But the vice chancellors' body said it was very disappointed, and the cuts amounted to 8% in real terms.

Business Secretary Vince Cable and Universities Minister David Willetts said the government faced "extremely challenging public spending constraints". But Mr Willetts said universities were "well able to handle" the cuts and it was a "very solid cash settlement".
[. . .] The University and College Union said the cut was a "kick in the teeth" for the sector, which would fall behind international competitors. "The government seems to think that the sector will be able to deliver more for less and students will be happy to pay three times the price. That is absolute madness," said general secretary Sally Hunt. "By cutting funding and access to university, attacking staff pay and conditions and charging students record fees we are going to be left behind," she said.
The Russell Group of research-intensive universities said it was concerned that cuts to the capital budget would be "particularly detrimental", and the reduction of the teaching grant would be "really challenging" for universities to absorb. [. . .]"

I fear this may be further bad news for UK universities. They have already gone through a variety of "efficiency saving exercises": look at the rise in number of universities where departments have been brought together into "schools": it is unclear what more might be cut.

Some may argue that, look, the whole country is going through some pain and the universities must share this burden. Yet, universities seem to be taking the brunt with a massive reduction in funding --- including a 100% cut in all support for teaching arts, humanities, and social sciences --- from 2012. While it is claimed that universities might be able to make up this lost revenue by charging much higher fees, the government has given no firm response to any number of central questions such as whether quotas on student numbers for universities will be lifted. If lifting quotas is as unlikely as I suspect, then this may greatly limit how much cash universities might make up with higher fees. Plus, universities will be less able to prepare in advance for the rise in fees (where students may pay twice or even treble current fees) with this additional cut in funding.

Yes, we've heard this line before about doing the best in a tough economic climate. We might have thought the 100% cut in teaching for arts, humanities, and social sciences well beyond any sane threshold. Unfortunately, this seems only the beginning of cuts, not the conclusion. It is helpful to see the Russell Group now voicing concerns. Perhaps if we heard more (and a different line) before . . .

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