Cuts to Higher Ed in the UK: Say it isn’t so!

The NY Times announces that British Universities can expect the government to cut about 80%  from the funding of teaching and 25% from research.  The cuts will need to be made up from tuition, which was the subject of the Browne report.  What’s discussed below is the next report, due out 10/20 (or, in the UK, 20/10). 

For months, Britain’s universities have warned in apocalyptic terms about the devastating cuts they face as part of the government’s grand plan to reduce public-sector costs. Now, with the government poised next week to announce its spending plans, their worst fears seem about to come true.

The source of information appears to be an interview with Prof. Steve Smith, who  is both president of Universities U.K., which represents Britain’s higher-learning institutions, and vice chancellor of the University of Exeter.  The Times Higher Education reported on Oct. 15:

The president of Universities UK has told vice-chancellors to expect cuts of £4.2 billion in the government’s spending review – and warned that a huge funding gap is a “terrible danger”.

Steve Smith writes in an email to all vice-chancellors that Lord Browne of Madingley’s review of higher education funding and student support, published this week, forecasts a teaching grant of £700 million.

Such a sum would be a huge reduction from the current Higher Education Funding Council for England teaching grant of £3.9 billion – a cut of £3.2 billion, or 82 per cent.

“Cuts in the order of £1 billion for research also appear to be proposed,” Professor Smith says.

 Smith, quoted by the NY Times:

Professor Smith of Universities U.K. said such drastic cuts in government spending were not necessary. Speaking of Prime Minister David Cameron’s notion of “the big society,” he said, “When they say the big society, they mean the small state.”

He added, “I think they’re cutting the university sector because they can, and I think that’s terribly damaging for the future of the country.”

 Another observation:

“As far as I’m concerned, this is philistinism on a large scale,” said Paul Cottrell, the head of policy at the University and College Union, which represents teachers in higher education. Some universities may have to abolish subjects in the humanities, Mr. Cottrell said. “The alternative is to cut costs,” he said, “but as soon as you do that you get a reputation for poor quality, and you lose your overseas students pretty quickly.”

So it’s M&O (maintenance and operations) or humanities departments.  Well, that seems to be easy, but let’s start putting scare quotes around the terms for high education, such as “university”.

17 thoughts on “Cuts to Higher Ed in the UK: Say it isn’t so!

  1. thanks, Matt. Just a clarification: they’re discussing the Browne report, which was about tuition. The new report about spending cuts will be out next week. We may be looking at leaks and at estimates based on ideas about what the Browne report implies about cuts.

    I just changed the post to make this clearer.

  2. With the cuts, huge tuition rises are the only ways universities can survive. But not all universities will be able to get students who can pay the huge new fees. So it’s being predicted that 25% will close, and that most of the rest will pretty much lose their working class students. (Interestingly, some predict that Oxbridge will wind up with more working class students than other universities, because they will be able to afford scholarships.)

    Incredibly depressing.

  3. As to the Browne result, is anyone surprised that the outcome of a BP exec’s report will be disastrous?

  4. Yup. It *will* double at any university that survives. Not many working class students will take on that debt.

  5. I read that the students from the poorest families will get extra financial help. So it will be the next group up who suffer most, those not poor enough to get the extra financial help, but whose parents are not wealthy enough – or choose not – to help them.

    It has to be said that there will also be plenty of middle class parents who could afford to help but who will choose not help fund their children, (e.g. ‘you’re old enough to stand on your own two feet’). Children of such parents will be facing taking on all the debt themselves. So they too may be discouraged from going to university.

  6. Middle class kids will fall through the cracks, as they have done in the US. Neither poor enough for aid nor rich enough to not need it. This means the kids and/or their parents go into huge debt, or the kids go to a local cheaper junior college for a 2 year degree or a crap 4 year school that churns out uneducated but degreed graduates. Or one of the “you pays your money and you gets your degree even if you can’t hardly read” online-only scam degrees, thus throwing away what money they have. A sorry state of affairs…. I hate to see the excellent UK higher education system come to this…

  7. It seems to me that as well as a class issue, there is a gender issue here. As I understand it, the teaching subsidy that the govt currently provides to universities is expected to be cut almost entirely (or just entirely) from humanities subjects but not entirely from (physical) sciences subjects, because of the latter being more expensive to teach, needing more equipment, labs, etc.. But given that the proportion of female academics is higher in humanities than in sciences, this seems to suggest that the redundancies that will follow from these cuts will fall disproportionately hard on women. Some people think this wave of redundancies is going to be absolutely massive. I hope not, but it’s hard to predict. Moreover, this will fall hardest on temporary or part-time or relatively junior staff amongst whom women also figure disproportionately (or so I believe).
    One way universities are responding already is by squeezing administrative staff – reducing their fractions, increasing their workloads, shedding some jobs – who are overwhelmingly female.
    AND, it seems to me, if in humanities particularly universities are going to have to ‘do more with less’ (teach the same degrees with less resources, staff, etc.) then given that female students are more concentrated in humanities relative to sciences that too will have a proportionately greater negative impact on women.
    But is my reasoning right about all this? I’ve yet to see any discussions of all these – total disastrous – developments that consider them from a gender angle. Any links, references?

  8. JV, it’s a great idea to look at gender. It might require a little research, since some sciences have women as participants in much higher numbers than we might expect. It might all be on the web in one place.

  9. i’m not exactly sure how funding works in higher ed in britain, but a recent article from christopher newfield (and posted to the newapps blog, here) (i hope that works, i don’t speak html well!) argues that, in the us and especially at research institutions, the persistent defunding of the humanities and the arts is partially based on the misperception that sciences are a net gain to the university, whereas humanities and the arts is a net loss, whereas, due to the amount of money brought in through tuition dollars, its actually the case that the arts and humanities fund the sciences. that means of course that the logic is somewhat other than monetary; newfield offers some ideas there as well, arguing that folks in the humanities have not adequately defended their role in the university, especially on these market-based grounds.
    anyway, there’s some good stuff on the political economy of higher ed over there.

    but this news is indeed catastrophic. i picked a really super time to get into this business.

  10. Our experience in the USA has been that when colleges and universities turned to insanely high tuition to offset the lack of public support, the lower-middles who couldn’t get financial aid turned out to be the bearers of amazing student-loan debts that extend well into retirement.

    This really was part of the reason that Pres. Bush signed the CCRAAct, which provides loan forgiveness to those of us who perform ten years of full-time employment in most any public service sector. This was great news to those of us in public higher ed, though it reduces your freedom to leave.

    I foresee massive student debt for UK’s future students. I hope a future PM does for them what our government did for us. (Yes, I did say something positive about Bush in this post. No one’s bad all the time.)

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