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Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.
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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