• August 31, 2015

British Universities Will See Budget Cuts of 40% Under National Austerity Plan

Higher education will suffer major budget cuts under a comprehensive spending review released last week by the British government.

The report outlines the coalition government's plans to address the largest budget deficit Britain has faced outside of wartime. Almost all government departments, excluding health and overseas aid, will see their budgets cut by an average of 19 percent over four years, according to the review. Cuts of 83 billion pounds (about $131-billion) are expected to result in the elimination of 490,000 public-sector jobs.

The news for British universities is particularly bad: Excluding research support, which will remain flat, the amount of money going to higher education in England will decline by 40 percent over the next four years, from 7.1 billion pounds (about $11-billion) to 4.2 billion pounds (about $6.6-billion). Universities in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, which are financed from different budgets, are also likely to face significant cuts.

The research budget will be frozen at 4.6 billion pounds (about $7.3-billion), "to ensure the UK remains a world leader in science and research," the review said.

Within the higher-education budget, the government has said it will continue to pay for teaching in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. That has raised concern among some academics that the social sciences and humanities may be at risk.

In a public address outlining the spending review, George Osborne, the finance minister, referred to universities as "jewels in our economic crown" but made clear that financial upheaval is ahead.

Britain's predominantly public higher-education system is heavily dependent on government support. For most institutions, especially those that are not research-intensive, that financing forms the largest portion of their budgets.

To cope with such drastic cuts, the government plans to allow universities to raise tuition beginning in 2012. That follows a measure suggested last week by a government-commissioned panel led by Lord Browne of Madingley, a former chief executive of BP. The panel encouraged the removal of the government-set tuition cap of 3,290 pounds, or about $5,200 a year, at universities in England.

Institutions at Risk

The government took pains to highlight ways in which it will continue to make higher education accessible. That includes a new 150-million-pound ($237-million) scholarship fund for disadvantaged students and a loan scheme to support full- and part-time students. Part-time students do not now have access to government loans.

Neither the protection of the research budget nor other forms of support, however, was much cause for celebration at British universities.

"It is hard to see the rationale behind slashing college and university budgets when they generate massive economic growth for the country and when the alternative is more people on the dole and the state losing out on millions in tax revenues," said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, in a written statement. "It's no good the chancellor [Mr. Osborne] describing universities as the jewel in our economic crown and then following those warm words up with massive cuts. Every MP [member of Parliament] with a college or university in or near their constituency should be clear that the cuts will put those institutions at risk."

Meanwhile, advocates of tuition increases suggested that the government has not gone far enough.

"The decision to maintain the research budget for the next four years and to ring-fence this funding provides research-intensive universities and their business partners with a much-needed degree of reassurance about the government's long-term commitment to science and innovation," said Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, which comprises Britain's top 20 research-intensive universities, in a written statement. But, she added, "We are also concerned about the size of the cuts to rest of the higher-education budget. If the UK's world-class universities are to perform their vital role as the engine room of economic recovery, the government must allow universities to ask for higher graduate contributions as recommended by Browne."

Some analysts wonder if all higher-education institutions in Britain can survive such cuts.

"Some universities are really going to be struggling and will probably fail," said Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, a British think tank.


1. mmeisens - October 20, 2010 at 07:36 pm

It is good to see that the humanities and social sciences are being cut and/or eliminated. Since political correctness, they have added nothing to the public sphere but have suck huge public resources. Their sole goal has been to undermine cility and reason. They have outlived their usefulness because of their own self-rightiousness.

2. chrismm - October 20, 2010 at 08:31 pm

In four concise sentences, you have amply demonstrated the need for social sciences and the humanities. Bravo.

3. red_jasper - October 20, 2010 at 08:37 pm

Chime to #2.

4. dukemath - October 20, 2010 at 08:39 pm

How all fields should be funded and the possible changing roles of all discsiplines are important questions that should and need to be addressed honestly, critically and openly but mmeisens's comment is so ignorant it is hardly worth responding to. I am a math educator so am glad to hear that math is valued by Parliament but to say that all history, economics, business, psychology, philosophy, literature and foreign languages is a useless ideologic waste of public funding is so baseless and uninformed that it borders on the ridiculous. but I can only imagine that mmeisens comment is just some adolescent outburst designed to seek attention.

5. gabrielasylvia - October 20, 2010 at 09:34 pm

of more interest, and relevance,than mmeisens' ignorant comments, is the fact that education at all levels is no longer a right but a privilege. The decimation of tertiary education is of a piece with the attacks on education as a whole everywhere including here in Australia. Increasingly,all faculties have to justify their existence economically and virtually all faculties at major research unis in Australia for example, are reliant on corporate sponsorship as govt funding dwindles. The nature of the research, as can be imagined, can be very much compromised when the bottom line is company profit.The humanities do not attract such sonsorship. It should be recalled for the benefit of people such as mmeisens that the liberal arts were the foundation of all university study when they were first founded. Almost all the best scientists and doctors valued literature and the arts, and some doctors made great playwrights and novelists: Chekhov and Andre Breton to name only two. That disciplines are now to vie with each other for diminishing govt funds is an indictment of the commodification of education at all levels. And note just who is calling for the removal of caps and increasing student fees: company ceos no less, those who brought about the financial crisis but lost nothing themselves.

6. nmgreaves - October 21, 2010 at 05:39 am

Notwithstanding the otherwise cretinous comments by mmeisens he/she inadvertently raises a point. The public seems to value the 'hard sciences' and regards the so-called human sciences as something of a doddle-life for 'so-called academics' who are incapable of the precision of their natural science counterparts and who are thus themselves socially and economically non-productive, even parasitic. But have we in the social sciences and humanities not contributed to this reductionist perception? My former PhD supervisor - a post-modernist - used to argue until he was blue in the face that there is no reliable nor necessarily identifiable connection between politics and economics and that Marxism, for example, is just "metaphysics". I can't help thinking the invasion of the humanities and social sciences by the ambiguities and instabilities of postmodernism rather fulfils the cliché of the activities, preoccupations and value (of course, commodified) of these subjects in the public mind.

7. archman - October 21, 2010 at 04:23 pm

I thought the first post was a joke...

8. walkerst - October 27, 2010 at 03:35 pm

Certainly the spelling and grammar are a joke, in one sense at the very least ...

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