Tuesday, 9 November 2010

John Holmwood on University Teaching Funding Cuts in the UK

Demo 2010 – Fund Our Future
Against the Cuts? Attend Wednesday's NUS/UCU Demonstration in London
DEFEND the ARTS and HUMANITIES is delighted to publish the below article about proposed teaching funding cuts in the UK by John Holmwood, Professor of Sociology at the University of Nottingham:

The combination of the Browne Review recommendations for the funding of higher education and the Government’s commitment to reduce the public deficit will have disastrous consequences for the arts, humanities and social sciences. The philistine assumptions of the Browne Review and its reduction of the public value of education to investment in human capital and economic growth have been subject to devastating criticism by Stefan Collini in his review, ‘Browne’s Gamble’.

The Browne Review recommends that public support via the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) teaching contribution should be removed from all subjects except science, technology, engineering, medicine and some modern languages. It argues that the introduction of a market for higher education emphasising student choice and funded through fees will encourage diversity and drive up quality.

The Government now recommends that fees be set at £6000 with a fee cap at £9000 (which, following strong lobbying from the Russell Group, will not have any penalty levy attached, as envisaged by Browne).

For arts, humanities, and social sciences (mostly so-called 'Band D' subjects), the fee of £6000 when introduced in the academic year 2011/12, will represent a cut in income per student from an aggregate sum £7322 in 2010/11 (this is made up of £3947 in HEFCE teaching contribution plus the student fee, which is currently at £3290, but will rise to £3375 in 2010/11). For studio-based subjects or those with a fieldwork element (the so-called 'Band C' subjects), the cut in income is even greater, from £8506. This latter cut is not far removed from that imposed between 1989 and 1997 when funding per student fell by 36%.

Students will experience a near doubling of their fees, while the income going to Universities to support their courses is reduced. However, for those institutions only able to charge the ‘soft cap’ fee of £6000, it is clear that what is in store is restructuring and redundancies, with consequences for staff morale and the student experience.

The stability of the ‘soft cap’ fee of £6000 is under threat from the fact that the Government is also opening higher education to competition from ‘for profit’ private providers and from Colleges of Further Education (the latter suggesting that they may be able to offer degrees at a fee of £3000). Competition is likely to be directed toward vocational social science and arts degree courses.

A ‘squeezed middle’ is likely to emerge which will have consequences for a significant number of Universities currently with strong arts, humanities and social sciences. The consequences of competition are likely to be accentuated if, and when, the cap on student numbers is lifted. Universities able to charge £9000 are likely to seek to maximise the number of students they recruit, at the same time as there will be competition for students from below. In so far as the ‘student assistance’ fund is the limit on the overall number of students in the system, then the pressures will be greater. They will only be offset to the extent that those who can afford to pay fees up front and do not attract financial assistance will be a minimal charge against that fund. These students, of course, are precisely those who the Russell Group Universities are seeking to attract for fees of £9000 (and potentially higher). The nature of the competitive process that will ‘peg back’ the fee of £6000 is likely to give rise to increased fees at the top end as education becomes valued as a ‘positional good’ in a competitive professional labour market.

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