The future of Scotland’s universities

Universities have reached a pivotal point in their funding

It has become pivotal because over the last five years higher education funding has experienced a pattern of cuts to core budgets. Over five years the cuts:

  • add up to a 11.6% real terms decrease in higher education funding.
  • mean there is now £127.6 million less invested each year into universities than in 2014/15.
  • mean that every Scottish student at university in 2019/20 has almost £700 less Government funding invested in their education every year.

This pattern needs to stop if Scotland wants to avoid a significant and long-term decline in the performance and contribution of its 19 higher education institutions.

Erosion of public funding cannot continue without compromising universities’ performance, outputs and wider contribution to Scotland. We appreciate there are no easy choices for  Government but we believe it is a better route, and more economical, to invest now to protect a high-performing sector while it still delivers excellence, rather than to invest later to  rebuild one that has declined substantially. That is the choice the Scottish Government faces in 2019.

We’re ambitious for Scotland’s future: we’re asking Scottish Government to back that ambition.

Download our full spending review submission

Download our short summary document

Our ask of the Scottish Government

We want the Scottish Government’s 2020/21 budget to:

1. Commit to a 2% real terms increase in universities’ teaching and research grants.

This publicly funded increase would cost £39.4m and would reverse the recent pattern of decline in public funding.

2. Make an additional investment of £12.5m a year in university estates.

This would take the total HE capital budget to £50m, which is still only half of its level in 2009.

A broad contribution to Scotland

Higher education makes a broad contribution to Scotland’s economy, society and wellbeing and with the positive impact reaching much more widely than those who work or study at  university. Mapped against the National Performance Framework, universities contribute to 28 of the Government’s indicators across nine of the 11 outcomes. See universities’ contribution to the National Performance Framework over the last couple of years below.

  • 39% of school leavers went directly into HE in 2017/18, up from 38.3% the year before.
  • Universities are increasing participation of under-represented groups. 15.6% of undergraduate entrants were from SIMD20 areas in 2017/18 compared to 13.7% two years earlier
  • Over 92% of graduates were in “positive destinations” of work or further study six months after graduation in 2016/17, which has continued to grow from the high of 90% in 2012.
  • A £1.94bn net economic contribution through the export of education, research and commercialisation which equates to a 2.4% share of Scotland’s exports, higher than tourism.
  • 83% of all Scottish universities now have an on campus incubator to support graduate & staff start-ups.
  • Scottish HE research leverages over £750m of research and innovation funding into Scotland.
  • 90% of current international students are satisfied with their learning and support experience at university.
  • 77% of international students at UK universities say they are more likely to do business with the UK as a result of studying in the UK.
  • Scotland’s international reputation for educational qualifications, using the Nation Brand Index increased from 4.6 to 4.7 between 2016 to 2018.
  • Over 4.25 million people attended free cultural events held by Scotland’s universities in 2017/18.
  • Of that, 1.3 million people attended educational events at university museums, over 720,000 people attended concerts, plays and dance events, over 675,000 people attended art exhibitions and over 250,000 attended public lectures.
  • Around 3.7% of all graduates to go straight into the workforce on graduation do so within the arts and entertainment industries as defined by standard occupational classifications.
  • Collectively, universities are responsible for over 1,800 buildings, which include listed buildings and sites of national significance.
  • The amount of total waste recycled by universities has increased to more than 20,000 tonnes in 2017/18, up from 15,000 three years ago.
  • 46% of university students studying in Scotland meet the CMO recommended activity levels of more than 150 minutes a week. Another 43% fall in the fairly active bracket of 31 to 149 mins.
  • The number of cycle spaces provided by universities for staff and student use has grown by 7% over the last three years to nearly 13,500.
  • Universities are committed to the role they play in their wider communities and have important statutory and values-based roles in reducing all forms of inequality in their staff and student population.
  • Universities are equally vital to the places in which they are located and reliant on the partnership and support of their local communities. We strive to truly be ‘civic institutions’, playing our role to the fullest in our locality.

We’ve adapted our short summary documents to reflect universities’ contribution to specific National Outcomes. Read out the contributions below:

Key Points:

  • We want the Scottish Government’s budget for 2020/21 to commit to a 2% real terms increase in universities’ teaching and research grants.
  • This funding bid is to start to redress a pattern of cuts to higher education over the last five years.
  • Over that time, university funding for teaching and research has been cut by 11.6%


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