Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

More Students Will Mean a Financial Squeeze

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

More Students Will Mean a Financial Squeeze

Article excerpt

Up to 30,000 extra places next year 'will stretch the unit of resource'. Jack Grove reports

Universities may need to cut their spending per student next year because teaching funds will have to cover up to 30,000 extra students, sector figures have warned.

Although cuts to English university funding announced in last month's grant letter were smaller than expected, there are concerns that those teaching funds still distributed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England will be stretched further than ever.

Tuition fees from the additional 30,000 students, announced by the chancellor in December's Autumn Statement, will cover most of the costs associated with teaching those entrants, but Hefce also contributes towards the cost of educating students in high-cost subjects and those from poorer backgrounds.

"If 30,000 extra students - some 7 per cent more - call on a Hefce teaching budget in a way broadly similar to last year's, the unit of resource for each student is likely to be eroded," said David Maguire, vice-chancellor of the University of Greenwich.

"The headline figure may remain the same, but in practice, there is less money in terms of unit of resource," said Professor Maguire, who cited student opportunity funding and high-cost subjects as areas of particular pressure.

Inflationary pressures are also diminishing the unit of resource in real terms as institutions cannot raise tuition fees above £9,000 a year, Professor Maguire added. "The headline £9,000 fee has already been eaten away by inflation for two years, so we will have 5 per cent less than two years ago," he said.

At the same time, said Dame Julia Goodfellow, vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, there was increased spending on students because "the focus on the academic experience...has never been higher".

"Even recognising the achievement of, and need for, more efficiencies by the sector, this [funding settlement] will put a strain on our expenditure," she said.

Dame Julia, who chairs Hefce's Financial Sustainability Strategy Group, added that ministers should begin to consider "a mechanism for increasing the fee cap at least in line with inflation".

'Extra will have to be found'

Andy Westwood, chief executive of GuildHE, agreed that the extra 30,000 students would place a strain on limited Hefce resources.

"Although paid for by loans, there will be some students who are on high-cost subjects and from widening participation groups, so additional grants [for them] will have to be found somewhere along the line," he said. …

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