Subjects face axe in university funding shake-up

Originally published in The Herald, 2/10/2009

Scotland’s newest universities are facing damaging budget cuts as a result of plans for a radical shake-up of the way higher education is funded.

Under the proposals, the universities of Abertay, Edinburgh Napier, Glasgow Caledonian, Queen Margaret, Stirling, Strathclyde and West of Scotland would all see a reduction in funding for teaching.

By contrast, the older universities of Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews would all see an increase. Other significant winners include Edinburgh College of Art, Glasgow School of Art and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow.

Universities and politicians attacked the changes, saying they were fundamentally flawed and would damage the education of working-class Scots.

However, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), which drew up the plans, said they would link funding more closely to the actual cost of teaching different disciplines.

Under the plans, SFC officials have placed courses into a new framework of four overall funding bands, which range from £15,800 per student at the top to £5000 at the bottom. The previous system had 12 bands.

For some courses, such as medicine, mechanical engineering and dentistry, there will be no change, while others, such as mathematics, creative arts and sciences, will see an increase in funding.

However, courses such as architecture, catering and hospitality, education, psychology and geography would all be placed in lower bands.

Academics expressed concerns over the future of these individual subjects, and there were also warnings about the wider financial impact for institutions that teach a greater proportion of them.

Professor Bernard King, principal of Abertay University, said: “We are disappointed with these proposals and we will be making our views known in the strongest possible terms during the consultation period.

“This review is fundamentally flawed because the proposed new funding structure appears to have the unintended consequence of materially damaging the higher education prospects of thousands of Scottish working-class youngsters.

“The four institutions that stand to lose most under these proposals are all modern universities with higher proportions of students from indigenous working-class backgrounds than the universities that stand to gain.”

Professor Dame Joan Stringer, principal of Edinburgh Napier University, said the prospect of a cut in the university’s teaching grant was “disappointing”.

“These proposals would, in general, do most harm to Scotland’s modern universities, which play a major role in developing the economically relevant knowledge and skills which the country will need as it emerges from recession,” she said.

Tony Axon, parliamentary officer for UCU Scotland, the lecturers’ union, also expressed concern.

“The funding council seems to be making a change for the sake of change and it seems unfortunate that some subjects should be losing out simply because of where they have been slotted into a new table,” he said.

Claire Baker, higher education spokeswoman for the Scottish Labour Party, said the proposed cuts to education and architecture courses would damage Scotland’s economic future.

“Scotland is currently 1000 teachers down and, to support Scotland’s growth, we will need the next generation of building experts,” she said.

However, a spokesman for the Scottish Funding Council said the consultation was vital because it worked towards a better basis of allocating core funding.

“We’ve prepared the consultation from our analysis of evidence from universities that has recently become available and that shows the cost of providing teaching for different areas of the curriculum,” he said.