Magazine article Times Higher Education

Hungry Treasury Eyes Universities 'Awash with Cash'

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Hungry Treasury Eyes Universities 'Awash with Cash'

Article excerpt

New austerity measures could wreak havoc on BIS' stretched finances.

Fears are growing that England's universities could suffer from the perception that they are "awash with cash", as the Treasury seeks cuts of Pounds 1 billion in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' 2015-16 budget.

Vince Cable, the business secretary, is opposing the Treasury's spending review plans for cuts of up to 8 per cent to his department, where higher education is by far the biggest area of spending.

Such a cut would be in line with projected reductions at other non- protected departments.

By contrast, in Australia the representative body for universities has launched an A$5 million (Pounds 3.4 million) campaign in election year to push for annual increases in state investment and promote public awareness of higher education.

In England, there is concern in the sector that its financial figures for 2011-12, to be published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England on 15 March, may add grist to the Treasury's mill.

The figures are likely to show healthy surpluses across the sector as universities prepared for the uncertainty promised by the new fees and funding regime.

Graeme Reid, head of research funding at BIS, said last week at a conference that it was time for universities to show they were making efficiency savings, as the sector was viewed by some as "well-funded" and "resistant to change".

"The term 'awash with cash' has reached my desk several times recently," he told Universities UK's efficiency in higher education conference, held in London on 26 February.

Talks between Cabinet ministers are under way on the 2015-16 spending review, with the Treasury seeking Pounds 10 billion of cuts across the government. The review is due to be announced this summer and will cover the period immediately after the next general election.

Mr Cable has criticised the lack of protection for departmental budgets such as his own. He told the BBC there was "a very strong argument if we're interested in growth and recovery for investing a lot more, not less, in skills and science and innovation and our industrial strategy".

BIS' published departmental expenditure limit in 2014-15 is Pounds 15.1 billion, down from Pounds 18 billion in 2012-13. …

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