Posted tagged ‘grant letter’

UK universities facing cuts

December 23, 2009

It was always clear that the recent experience of Irish universities of significant cuts in the light of the economic downturn was also going to be a feature of British higher education funding. Yesterday the UK’s Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, Lord Mandelson (whose remit covers higher education), wrote the annual ‘grant letter‘, which is a letter by the Secretary of State to the English funding council (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are handled locally) indicating what funds will be available to the sector. This year the main emphasis is on efficiency gains and cuts. As is sometimes the case when politicians address the sector, the main message is one of expecting the probably unachievable: Lord Mandelson is here found suggesting ‘greater efficiency, improved collaboration and bearing down on costs’, all to be done with ‘a commitment to protect quality and access’. Well, it is Christmas.

The new cut to budgets contained in the letter amounts to £135 million. Some of the money will be taken from capital budgets, so that the cut to teaching allocations will be £51 million. Taking the overall teaching budget of England, this is a cut of around 1 per cent. I suppose one might say, from an Irish perspective, that this isn’t all that much – after all, we have just been cut by 4 per cent, on top of cuts in the previous year. Nevertheless, the cut, along with Lord Mandelson’s reflections on how universities need to develop their strategies and his intention to protect but ‘concentrate’ research funding, is another instance of the pressures currently being applied that are necessarily going to have to lead to a re-assessment of what model of higher education we can now pursue that will leave universities globally competitive.

It is clear that governments, and those advising them on education strategy, no longer consider the traditional university model to be desirable or viable. On the whole the response to this from the universities in these countries has not presented a strong case for an alternative strategy likely to be seen as realistic by the politicians. This is now an urgent priority. I propose to set out some of the issues in a series of posts on this blog early in the New Year.