International standing of UK universities under threat

14 May 2010

Today sees the release the first of The Russell Group’s independently-researched reports into the underfunding of higher education. Staying on top: The challenge of sustaining world-class higher education in the UK outlines the dangers of underinvestment in Britain’s leading research-intensive universities and the wider implications for health of the UK economy.

Commenting on this new report the Director General of The Russell Group, Dr Wendy Piatt, said:

“The UK now stands at a crossroads – without more investment in higher education, the UK risks jeopardising the competitive advantage which has made its universities the envy of the world. University underfunding also has serious consequences for the nation. As the UK’s economic competitiveness becomes increasingly dependent upon high-tech industries and skilled graduates, our leading research-intensive universities will be of increasing and crucial importance in driving future growth and prosperity.

“UK universities currently punch well above their weight in the international sphere. But research-intensive institutions are under-resourced in comparison with their international competitors.  While universities in the UK are bracing themselves for a period of austerity and uncertainty, other nations are rightly pouring investment into their universities at this key time before the world economy picks up.

“In terms of GDP, America invests more than twice what Britain spends on higher education. As a result of a huge boost in spending in recent years, universities in China have been steadily climbing up international league tables. Closer to home, France and Germany are both pumping millions into their leading universities. Our competitors know that this investment will be crucial to their future success in a global knowledge economy.

“Increased investment in UK higher education since 2000 has certainly helped improve the learning and teaching experience for students, whilst supporting research of major international importance.  Evidence also shows that the introduction of variable fees has had no adverse impact on recruitment.  But our universities also face increasing cost pressures across the board. To maintain their impressive competitive edge, they will need to invest urgently in the infrastructure, high-quality staff, and the facilities necessary to deliver the very best education to their students.

“With funding reductions and the prospect of future cuts to manage, without clear means of increasing their income, meeting these challenges begins to look like an impossible task. There is now a real risk that we could lose academics who have been responsible for discoveries that have changed the lives of millions of people for the better or tutors who have inspired generations of students and turned them into outstanding doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs.

“The outstanding quality of our higher education is one of this country’s great strengths. We can be rightfully proud that the UK’s leading institutions are considered to be among the very best, anywhere. In the balance lies not only the preservation of an outstanding sector of which we can be proud; also at stake is the UK’s future as a really successful, dynamic and prosperous nation.”

The Russell Group has today also published its submission to the first call for evidence of Lord Browne’s Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance.

Staying on top: The challenge of sustaining world-class higher education in the UK

First Submission to the Browne Review of Higher Education Funding

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