University leaders have expressed a mixture of praise, caution and criticism for Chancellor George Osborne’s Spending Review. The announcement on that the science budget is being protected has largely been welcomed, although with hints that some are far from satisfied that it is enough, but the squeeze on the Student Opportunity Fund has “disappointed” multiple sector leaders.
Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK and vice chancellor of the University of Kent, said: “We welcome the protection of science funding in real terms. It recognises the crucial role of science and research to economic growth.”
Goodfellow is “pleased that the government has extended eligibility for maintenance loans to part-time and postgraduate students” but “disappointed with cuts to the student opportunity fund, especially given the government’s aspiration to widening participation in higher education.”
Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, also welcomed the science budget announcement. Additionally, she hailed “The government’s decision to protect funding for high-cost (including STEM) subjects in real terms and extend loans to students doing a second degree in these disciplines reflects just how vital these graduates are to the economic success of the UK.”
But Professor Dave Phoenix, chair of million+ and vice-chancellor of London South Bank University, said:
“While science funding has done comparatively well compared to teaching, there will still be concerns that the UK is not investing enough compared to our competitor nations especially when it comes to applied research. While the Chancellor seems to have accepted the recommendations of the Nurse Review wholesale, there must be an opportunity for universities to express their views about the future of quality-related research funding including the implications for the UK-wide research infrastructure.”
On postgraduate loans, Phoenix said “The requirement that students will have to study at 50% intensity will not help many of the part-time students who want to study at postgraduate level.”
Maddalaine Ansell, chief executive of University Alliance, said:
“We welcome the decision to protect the science budget in real terms and support the next generation of researchers through an inclusive system of postgraduate loans. We are also delighted that there will be more help for part-time students and increased opportunities for those in work to retrain.”
But on Student Opportunity Funding, she warned: “Ministers must ensure that the cuts announced today do not undermine the Prime Minister’s ambitious goal of doubling the proportion of disadvantaged young people entering higher education by 2020.”
Professor Madeleine Atkins, Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) chief executive, said:
“The reduction to student opportunity funding will be challenging for providers but HEFCE will work with Government and the sector to retarget and reduce the student opportunity fund in a way that best achieves the Government’s aims for social mobility.
“The Spending Review maintains funding in real-terms for high-cost subjects, including STEM subjects which are key to economic growth.”
The University and College Union voiced concerns that extending loans in both FE and HE would lead to the poorest paying most for their education.
General secretary Sally Hunt said “This approach will lead to the poorest paying most for their education. Take-up of further education loans in particular has been sluggish to date, so asking younger students to take on loans is a risky move for the sector.”
Independent conservative think-tank Bright Blue, meanwhile, suggested the extension of maintenance loans to part-time and postgraduate students “may not be the best response.
“Our research shows it is the cost of the tuition fees more than the cost of living which is the biggest barrier to prospective part-time higher education students. The Chancellor would be better advised to prioritise extending the provision of tuition fee loans to cover more part-time students than to introduce maintenance loans”, it added.
The Chartered Association of Business Schools‘ chair, Professor Simon Collinson, said “A flat cash settlement for the Research Councils overall is a good outcome given the 17% cuts announced to the overall BIS budget” and welcomed the introduction of Research UK.
“We are concerned that the cuts to student opportunity funding may have potentially detrimental impact on the progress we have made towards widening access and social mobility.
“We note with some concern that the government will reduce the teaching grant by £120 million in cash terms by 2019-20, but we hope that anticipated measures from the new Teaching Excellence Framework will allow universities to offset these cuts through increased fees linked to their teaching performance”, he added