Russell Group warmly welcomes the CBI Higher Education Task Force report 'Stronger together – business and universities in turbulent times'

21 September 2009

Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group of 20 leading universities, said:

“In turbulent times research-intensive universities are a sound – and essential – investment for UK plc. We warmly welcome the support of the CBI for maintaining a world-class higher education system vital to the UK’s future competitiveness and survival of the recession. Our leading universities are facing a funding crisis which urgently needs to be tackled if they are to survive intense and growing international competition.

“The CBI is right to call for an exploration of new sources of funding and to say that the priority is to maintain quality rather than expand numbers. It is clear that in order for Russell Group universities to stay internationally competitive, provide a first-rate teaching experience and offer generous support to disadvantaged students, we will need access to increased – not reduced - funding.

“The introduction of fees has managed to halt a long-term decline in funding but investment in HE in Britain is still significantly lower than in most other OECD countries. On the other hand, as the CBI points out - the system of student support in England remains one of the most generous, and expensive, in the world.

"The Russell Group has been investigating a range of options to solve the funding crisis and to ensure that financial burden is spread more fairly. An increase in tuition fees, as recommended by the CBI, is clearly one of those options but we want to be one hundred per cent sure about the impact of any changes to fee levels on students before putting forward our own proposals. As the CBI report shows, the evidence to date is very promising. The introduction of variable fees in 2006 had no adverse impact on access. This is not surprising, because educational under-achievement - not finance - is the key reason for a lower proportion of working-class students in higher education.

“Lack of good advice and guidance is also a huge problem in ensuring that students from low income backgrounds maximise their opportunities in life. Too few students are being encouraged to opt for STEM subjects at GCSE, A level and university despite the fact that STEM graduates earn more on average than others and numeracy skills are essential for many courses at leading universities.

“Finally we welcome the call for even closer ties with industry and the recognition from the CBI that working with universities is part of core innovation activity."

Notes to editors

  1. Russell Group universities nearly 30% of the nation’s graduates in science and maths Russell Group universities received 65% of the total sector income from contract research in 2007/08.
  2. During 2007/08 The Russell Group earned over £880m from research in partnership with business.
  3. Russell Group universities on average earned £3.3m in consultancy contracts during 2007/08: more than five times the average for the sector as a whole Russell Group universities delivered on average over 42,000 ‘learner days’ on continuing professional development courses: over twice the average provided by the rest of the sector; 19 out of 20 RGUs now have a dedicated unit which can provide a contact point for SMEs, while 18 out of 20 institutions are active in assisting SMEs to articulate their business needs.

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