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Scottish budget brings real terms cuts for universities

freerlaw / 123RF

Universities leaders in Scotland have criticised a real terms budget cut for higher education.

The Scottish Budget for 2019/20, published this week (on 12 December 2018), has allocated £1.839 billion to the Scottish Funding Council for higher education, a slight increase on the £1.838 billion the previous year.  But when inflation is taken into account, the figure represents a 1.79 per cent funding cut, university leaders pointed out.

Professor Andrea Nolan, Convener of Universities Scotland, said: “This returns universities to a series of real terms cuts that the Government stopped last year. We understand the Scottish Government is managing a challenging set of public finances. However, we’d hoped last year’s decision was the start of a slow climb back to sustainable funding. That’s clearly not the case.”

Funding for capital projects has dropped to £37.5 million, down from £45.5 in 2017/18, while the money available for universities to borrow for capital expenditure has risen over the same period from £l0 million to £55.5 million.

“Loans are now the main means of financial support that universities receive from the Scottish Government for their estate and infrastructure,” said Professor Nolan. “Loans are a helpful addition but cannot be a replacement for core funding and there is, ultimately, a limit to universities’ ability to borrow.”

Delivering the budget, Derek Mackay MSP, cabinet secretary for finance and the constitution, said it maintained investment at over £1 billion in Scotland’s universities.

He also said that the Higher Education Student Support (HESS) budget, which funds free tuition for all eligible Scottish or EU-domiciled undergraduate students studying in Scotland, would be maintained.

Higher education will receive a share of increased direct investment in mental health of £27 million, taking overall funding for mental health to £1.1 billion - to improve services for young people.

Universities are also partners in the £1.3 billion City Region and Growth Deals, aimed at maximising economic opportunities across the country.

There was a £22 million boost for Skills Development Scotland, which will invest over £214 million in the expansion of apprenticeships towards a target of 30,000 starts by 2020; pre-employment training opportunities; the national careers service; and implementation of Developing the Young Workforce (DYW).

 

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