Responding to the launch of the ‘green paper’ on a sustainable Scottish solution to university funding, Professor Bernard King CBE, Convener of Universities Scotland said:
“We welcome today’s green paper as a step closer to what is now an urgently needed solution to university funding. We will look to engage with it openly and constructively as one of the key stakeholders. However, we are still a long way from a sustainable solution for universities’ long-term future and much remains to be done to ensure that Scotland’s universities can continue to deliver for Scotland.”
Professor King warned of the scale and importance of the challenge ahead:
“Cuts to our public funding next year have already opened up a sizeable gap. This funding gap could quickly become a gulf if the fees regime in England plays out as some expect. The green paper must prompt universities and all political parties into agreeing the scale of the funding needed and determining what is and isn’t going to work to meet that requirement, so as to maintain student places and keep our universities competitive in the UK and internationally.”
“We cannot afford to underestimate the importance of getting this right for Scotland. The outcome will determine higher education funding policy for the next decade and what emerges at the other end of the green paper has to be more than just talk. If we miss this chance or get it wrong we could be cutting off the opportunity to study at university for thousands of potential students, which will undermine Scotland’s future innovation-driven economic growth.”
“The way we see it, the solutions presented today really boil down to supporting universities through public funding alone or public funding plus some form of graduate contribution. We need to be convinced that both of these options will produce genuinely new money in years to come, will keep places available to students and will keep our universities as an international asset for Scotland.”
In October this year, Universities Scotland called for the establishment of an expert group that could do the detailed modelling and costing necessary to arrive at a workable scheme for early implementation. This has been recognised in the green paper in the form of the ‘short-life technical group’. Commenting on the significance of the work of that group, Professor King said:
“We need to start attaching numbers to ideas throughout this process so that we can start ruling things out to leave us with a workable solution. This makes the role of the expert technical group very important to the success of the green paper and it’s important that all stakeholders get behind it.”
Universities Scotland set out its initial thinking towards a Scottish solution in October this year. A fair graduate contribution, as well as continued public funding, was part of the Scottish solution Universities Scotland called for.
Professor King added:
“We believe a fair graduate contribution scheme, one that is consistent with Scottish political values, is a possibility. It’s clear that Scotland should do it differently to England. A contribution sought from graduates cannot be at the expense of public funding and must be set at a level that does not discourage participation from students from all backgrounds. Ability to pay must not become what determines whether someone goes to university in Scotland or not.”
Universities Scotland is keen to see the Scottish Government’s commitment in the 2008 New Horizons report, to funding universities at a level that would maintain their competitiveness in the UK and
internationally, realised. The green paper has to produce solutions that can deliver on that commitment.
Professor Tim O’Shea, Vice-Convener of Universities Scotland and Principal of Edinburgh University said:
“Let us not forget that the Scottish Government already committed itself, in the 2008 New Horizons report, to maintaining the sector’s competitive position within the UK and internationally. This is the challenge the green paper has to deliver on.”
“We have an opportunity to find shared ground in Scotland which recognises public funding as the central support for learning at university, but which also recognises the need for an adequate funding stream which enables us to keep our doors open to as many qualified students as possible and to give them the quality of student experience they deserve. I hope all parties can seize this opportunity to build a consensus in the interests of Scotland’s learners.”
Universities Scotland will be making a full and open response to all questions posed in the 50-page document, as well as playing an active role in the technical working group.
- Scotland’s universities have already seen cuts to their teaching funding for 2011/12 in the order of five per cent in cash terms. These cuts are manageable for one year, under considerable pressure, and only with the expectation of a sustainable funding settlement for 2012/13.
- The consequences of not finding a sustainable solution to maintain Scotland’s universities’ competitiveness would include: substantially fewer student places at university; reduced choice of subjects and a deterioration in the student experience on offer; significant job losses at all levels; and Scotland losing leading researchers to its competitors, severely damaging our continued ability to attract international research and development investment.
- Universities Scotland believes that the Scottish solution to university funding should be a mix of continued public funding at the core, because of the wider public benefits that accrue from universities, as well as a fair graduate contribution to the cost of their education. Universities Scotland does not want to see the introduction of the English model in Scotland.
- Universities Scotland has also been clear that we see more than one element to a Scottish solution. We set down a range of constructive ideas, prior to the green paper, as to how aspects of university business could be done differently in future as part of a solution, including rethinking the learner journey and sector-led restructuring, provided that learner choice remains at the centre of this process.
- The fees regime in England is yet to play out but it’s expected that fees charged between £6,000-9,000 by universities in England will bring the benefit of additional income as a result and not just a substitute for the loss of public funding. This puts further competitive funding pressures on Scotland’s universities.