University funding and the fees debate

11 Dec 2009

 The Pre-Budget Report has thrown the whole debate over the future funding of universities and student finance into new relief. 

It is now apparent that on top of the £600 million 'efficiency savings' in the science and HE budgets, there will have to be a 'severe squeeze' on all spending areas apart from those that were identified for special protection by the Chancellor (i.e. schools, hospitals and Sure Start).

 The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that spending on unprotected areas such as universities may amount to 16% over the three years of the next Comprehensive Spending Review.

 Meanwhile the National Union of Students has given notice that it will take the fight over student fees to marginal seats at the General Election.

It - quite rightly - wants there to be a debate over university funding and student fees and does not want the two main parties to hide behind the independent review under Lord Browne, which will not report until after the election. 

Meanwhile, the debate over what should happen to fees in the new financial climate got off to a lively start with a debate I had the privilege to chair at Universities UK today.

One business leader caused consternation amongst many present when he said that the current cap on fee levels should be lifted completely, introducing a genuine market in student fees.

I will be writing more on this in my BBC News Online column tomorrow at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/default.stm

And you can watch the debate (which includes Professor Nick Barr, Wes Streeting, Professor Don Nutbeam, Professor Steve Smith, Sir John Chisholm and others) at: http://www.policyreview.tv/conf_media/359/free_videos.html

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