Universities issue call to action as report warns Scotland’s universities are a “declining system under pressure”

A new report published today [Thursday 21st March] by the European Universities Association (EUA) has categorised Scotland’s university sector as “a declining system under pressure” based on the pace of funding cuts over the long-term.

The latest Public Funding Observatory Report 2018 compares the level of public resource invested in universities in countries across Europe. It has found the funding situation for Scotland’s universities to be in “sustained decline” and puts Scotland’s higher education sector in a category with Italy, the Czech Republic and Serbia (see fig.1.2.2 page 10).

Scotland’s disinvestment in its higher education sector is at odds with the majority of its European counterparts. The EUA found that 14 European countries chose to increase levels of investment in higher education over the period 2008-2017 compared with only 11 countries which chose to cut funding (see chart 1.5 page 19).

Commenting on the findings, Professor Andrea Nolan, Convener of Universities Scotland, said:

“For an independent report to say that Scottish higher education is a ‘declining system under pressure’ is significant both for Scottish Government and for our reputation internationally. If we act now, we can avoid the danger zone and move our universities, their staff and students, in a more positive long-term direction. Ministers need to invest in higher education as a key driver of sustainable growth, which is the approach other small, advanced economies like Norway, Sweden and Denmark have taken.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the “front runners” of Sweden and Norway are categorised by the EUA as being in a “sustained growing pattern” with significant and comparable funding increases and modest increases in student numbers (see chart 1.3.3 on page 15).

The worst category for universities to find themselves in, within the EUA report, is that of “system in danger” where sustained and deep cuts to funding and increasing student numbers threaten universities. The Republic of Ireland and Serbia are the two countries listed as a “system in danger”.

Universities Scotland believes that Scotland has a choice about the future of our higher education sector and urges that the EUA report be seen as an urgent call to action.

Reflecting on the risk to the sector, if action is not taken, Professor Andrea Nolan said:

“We can’t risk one of Scotland’s key strengths. The Scottish Government can choose to reverse the cuts and build towards an ambitious vision for its universities and our contribution to our nation’s success.

“Scottish universities are working hard to protect excellent teaching and research, but core funding is £127 million below 2014 levels in real terms, and this is before universities have to find the means to pay imminent increases in pension costs.”