UUK seeks ‘bold and serious’ solutions to underfunding of sector

Vice-chancellors’ group launches ‘national conversation’ on future UK-wide research funding and teaching support in England

December 12, 2022
Beverley, UK - June 08, 2021 Two women dressed in colorful clothes and hats enjoy a fine spring morning in public gardens on June 08, 2021 in Beverley, Yorkshire, UK.
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Universities UK is launching a “national conversation” seeking “bold and serious” solutions to the underfunding of teaching and research.

The review will focus on UK-wide support for research and innovation, and teaching funding in England only, leaving Scotland’s fee-free policy off the table.

The vice-chancellors’ group said that it would work with “governments, political parties, consumer groups, employers, staff, students and the wider public, with the aim of identifying possible long-term approaches to the funding that universities receive for their teaching and research”.

Launching the project, UUK flagged that the £9,250 tuition fee in England is worth only £6,600 in 2012 prices, failing to cover the cost of teaching domestic students, and facing further erosion from high inflation expected over the next two years.

Meanwhile, student maintenance support is failing to keep up with inflation, and the parental earnings threshold – above which a student does not quality for maintenance support – has been frozen since 2008.

This was underlined by new research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, published on 12 December, which warns that cuts in maintenance loan entitlements “will cause hardship for some students”.

UUK said that its national conversation would “consider the funding of tuition in England, including how it supports students to make decisions on where they choose to study on a financially sustainable basis for them and for institutions. It will consider the implications for devolved jurisdictions of any possible changes to the English funding model, and how to support student mobility across the internal boundaries of the UK.”

Jenny Higham, vice-chancellor of St George’s, University of London, and chair of the group leading the project, said that if the higher education sector “is to fully meet its potential for economic growth, skills and research, it must be supported by the right level of funding”.

“Instead, overall university funding is forecast to drop to its lowest level in real terms since the 1900s, while graduates are paying more than ever,” Professor Higham said.

“The one thing that many viewpoints can agree on is that changes are needed to the current system. It is time to have bold and serious discussions about a solution to this, to ensure a high-quality student experience and world-class research.”

Steve West, the vice-chancellor of the University of the West of England and UUK’s president, had called for such a national conversation in his speech to the organisation’s annual conference.

The group chaired by Professor Higham is not expected to publish recommendations or a final report, but UUK’s policy approach will be informed by its work, the group said.


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