Written by Student Rights on 1 February 2010 at 5pm

Cuts: Good? Bad? Ugly?

Funding cuts to higher education and increases in tuition fees are always hot topics on university campuses. Recently revealed figures, along with the pre-budget report, amount to more than £900 million in funding cuts to higher education. Arguments regarding the impact of the cuts have been presented with both positive and negative outcomes. The intended cuts are accompanied by a desire to continue to protect the quality of and access to higher education in the UK. Is this possible?

On the one hand, fewer funds for individual universities and colleges means they will have to look elsewhere for additional funding. Some institutions, particularly the smaller and younger institutions, will be challenged to find sufficient resources necessary to continue to offer the same number of courses with the same amount of staff as they currently do. They may even find that they will not be able to acquire the necessary resources and will have to close their doors completely. It has been suggested that as many as 30 universities would not survive even the smallest of funding cuts.

Schools will need to cut expenses and increase revenues. This is likely to happen by reducing staff and increasing student numbers. That in turn means larger class sizes and the subsequent student:teacher ratio will have a negative impact on the quality of teaching.

There are also concerns that the cuts will have a negative impact on the international reputation of the UK’s higher education system. UK universities produce 7.9% of the world’s research publications. This is quite significant for a country with just 1% of the world’s population. UK universities also have a large number of international students, in large part because of the reputation of its educational system. These international students pay higher fees for their education and therefore are a significant revenue generator, something the administrators are surely aware of.

Conversely, funding cuts could have a positive impact on higher education in the UK as a result of supply and demand. A rise in fees and a reduction in government funding may initially suggest higher costs for students and therefore fewer students who would have access to a university education. However, if schools were privatized and students were responsible for acquiring their own funding, the competition of the market could drive down the fees.

Students will also demand a higher standard of the education they receive and be more appreciative of it because they want value for their money. The Ivy League schools the US were created under similar circumstances and they bode some of the best reputations for higher education around the world. If UK universities can produce 7.9% of the world’s research publications with just 1% of the world’s population, they should be able to generate sufficient funding from sources other than the UK tax payer and maintain their international reputation. Regardless of whether education is subsidized or not, students deserve a quality education.

The UK education system has a history of providing quality education and must continue to do so.