Magazine article Times Higher Education

Sector Offers Bleak Prognosis for Health Funding Transplants: News

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Sector Offers Bleak Prognosis for Health Funding Transplants: News

Article excerpt

Treatment to avoid cuts would do more harm than good, critics say. Elizabeth Gibney reports.

Leading university figures have raised the alarm about the plans being mooted to move medical education and research budgets across Whitehall in a bid to avoid huge spending cuts to the academy.

The proposals to shift the budgets from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to the Department of Health are said to be part of last-minute efforts to achieve the 10 per cent reduction in BIS spending reportedly being called for by the Treasury, which would amount to a Pounds 1.5 billion cut.

Transferring the cash for medical education from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to the DoH could save around Pounds 300 million from BIS' budget, Times Higher Education estimates.

Meanwhile, moving responsibility for the Medical Research Council's resource budget could save an extra Pounds 575 million if funding continued at 2014-15 levels.

The plans follow similar proposals from other under-pressure areas of government spending, such as defence and social care, to shift funding into the protected streams of health and international development, which are likely to continue to be exempt from cuts.

Sir Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter and former president of Universities UK, said he could see the "superficial appealing nature of the logic" behind the transfer route, but said it looked too good to be true "because it is".

Despite being protected, the DoH budget is already being squeezed because of the rapidly rising costs of providing healthcare for an ageing population, he said.

"The danger is medical education and research go into a budget under the most extraordinary pressure," Sir Steve said, with the money likely to be "eaten away and used for front-line delivery".

There were no guarantees that the DoH would receive corresponding increases to pay for the transfers, he added, and it might be forced to absorb the streams into its already pressurised budget. This could lead to cuts to the sums currently spent on medical education: more than Pounds 10,000 per year per student by Hefce in 2013-14.

A source familiar with the negotiations said the proposals were not thought to advocate moving provision away from universities. …

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