Russell Group comment on tough challenges of university funding

20 December 2010

Responding to today’s dual announcements from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills  (BIS) of the annual grant letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), and the research funding allocations, the Director General of the Russell Group of universities, Dr Wendy Piatt, said:

“We recognise that during this period of ongoing economic stringency in public expenditure there are elements in today’s announcements that represent a comparatively welcome outcome for our members.  But no-one should be in any doubt of the tough reality that very challenging times lie ahead for our leading universities and some very difficult decisions will need to be made if they are to maintain the world-class quality of their teaching and research.”

On research funding

“We welcome the Government’s recognition that science and research are crucial to the UK’s economic and growth performance, and the protection of the science budget in cash terms in the spending review.

“However, it should not be forgotten that our competitors are injecting vast amounts of cash into their universities, and our leading universities are already under-resourced in comparison with our international competitors.

“QR for universities in England has decreased by 4% from 2010-11. We are also concerned that cuts to capital spend will prove particularly detrimental, creating real and long-term difficulties for UK universities.  World-class infrastructure, particularly buildings and equipment, is needed to facilitate the very best environment for research and teaching.

“The Government’s prioritisation of research excellence and critical mass is welcome.  In the current economic conditions, it is particularly important to invest limited funds in the places where they will have the greatest impact. Our world-class, research-intensive universities have the critical mass and multi-disciplinary capacity to compete globally.

“We support the Government’s commitment to the dual support system which plays an essential part in sustaining research of the highest quality, and the combination of stable core funding and competitively awarded grants ensures the diversity and breadth of research in the UK.

“Our universities shall, of course, work with the Research Councils to ensure that they do all they can to reduce indirect costs associated with research and related postgraduate training.”

On teaching funding for English universities

“The cut in teaching funding of 6%, though not unexpected, will be really challenging for universities.  This is only the latest in a series of cuts to university funding which have already required us to seek all available opportunities to make savings.  This will just make it even more difficult for Russell Group universities to provide a first rate student experience on a par with that provided by much better resourced universities in other countries.(1)

“We now know universities will be permitted to increase their fees from autumn 2012, but today’s cuts will reduce the resources available to us to teach students who are already at university, and those who will start their courses next year.  Moreover, the very significant cut of 54% in teaching capital from £207m in 2010-11 to £95m in 2011-12 make it very difficult for our universities to achieve their goal of sustaining a world-class learning experience for our students.

“The indicative cuts to teaching funding for 2012-13 of an additional £830m highlight just how important recent parliamentary votes were in providing essential funding to replace these losses, albeit via increased fees and graduate contributions.  Without that income, it would have been impossible to maintain the world-class quality of our courses.”

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