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Sandra Booth, Director of Policy and External Relations for the Council for Higher Education in Art & Design (CHEAD), reviews a week of higher education news in which concerns emerged over universities’ financial stability due to Covid-19 and the impact of the crisis on students.
A growing number of higher education conferences and events are being postponed or moved online in response to the Coronavirus restrictions.
Amid predictions that higher education will be changed forever by the current pandemic, Professor James Miller, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Glasgow Caledonian University, suggests the innovative ways the sector is responding to the crisis will make it even more valued in the future.
The current crisis has underlined the critical role played by the UK’s experts and researchers and the institutions supporting them, as well as the need for collaboration between them, says Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of the National Centre for Universities and Business.
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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