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In a week when the government reshuffled its cabinet, HE issues that made headlines gave the newly-appointed universities minister a taste of things to come, says Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers .
The past week’s events and news are a sign of turbulent times for UK universities, warns Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University.
Mike Ratcliffe, academic registrar at Nottingham Trent University, reflects on issues emerging from a packed week of higher education news.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for higher education has reported almost a 21 per cent rise in the number of complaints it received from students last year – rising to their highest ever level at 2,371.
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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