Academic associations call for ‘new deal’ for universities in letter to Education Minister

Kirsty Williams AM. Picture by Welsh Lib Dems (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Forty-nine academic associations have written to the UK and devolved governments, including Wales’ Education Minister Kirsty Williams, calling for a “new deal” for higher education.

The letter calls on UK and devolved governments to substantially increases public spending on higher education in line with the OECD average.

Their letter points to a sharp drop in universities’ income as a result of a fall in student numbers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

UK public spending on higher education is the lowest among OECD countries, the letter says, making universities particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in income from student numbers.

COVID-19 has simultaneously highlighted the huge importance of university research in tackling the virus and its social and economic implications, as well as the unsustainability of the current funding model for higher education, the letter says.

“Almost all higher education institutions in the country will face huge obstacles to carry out their mission and remain internationally competitive without government support,” the letter says.

“A vibrant and robust higher education system is absolutely vital for the UK’s future. We believe that the current government funding model for higher education is inadequate for this task and we therefore call upon you to use the current crisis as an opportunity to create a new deal for higher education.

“Rather than providing a one-time bailout, it is paramount that the UK and devolved governments substantially increases public spending on tertiary education in line with the OECD average in order to ensure that our tertiary institutions remain at the forefront of global research, education and innovation.”

The 49 associations include Professors Kirsti Bohata and Matthew Jarvis of the Association for Welsh Writing in English.

 

‘Deficit’

Dr Nicola Pratt, Vice President of BRISMES, who helped organize the letter, said: “Universities have a key role to play in developing innovative research, and providing each new generation with cultural knowledge as well as cutting edge skills and expertise.

“Indeed, higher education improves the life chances of individuals, enhances social mobility and is also a major employer in many parts of the country. Now more than ever we need to substantially increase public spending on universities, we need a new deal for higher education.”

The letter goes on to say that higher education makes a fundamentally significant contribution to society, but is underfunded in the UK.

“It expands our knowledge and understanding of the world through an array of research discoveries, improves the life chances of individuals by enhancing social mobility and opportunities, advances the economy by carrying out innovative research, and provides each new generation with cultural knowledge as well as cutting edge skills and expertise,” the letter says.

“Yet, currently, UK public spending on tertiary education amounts to only a quarter of university budgets, which is not only the lowest among OECD countries, but comprises considerably less than half of the average spending among the OECD’s other 34 countries.

“It is therefore not surprising that nearly 25 percent of all UK universities were in deficit even before the pandemic and that now, due to a dramatic drop in projected income, almost all higher education institutions in the country will face huge obstacles to carry out their mission and remain internationally competitive without government support.”

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