Inequality? You ain't seen nothing yet

August 30, 2012

Before we get too smug about the possibilities of hordes of discontented US academics flocking to these shores to experience the delights of the research excellence framework, the National Student Survey, Key Information Sets and other such wonders ("Poachers' paradise", Features, 23 August), we need to note that the same trend of marketable faculty moving from poorer to wealthier institutions is already happening here. Moreover, it will almost certainly intensify as a result of the coalition's higher education "reforms".

It is still not generally appreciated just how great the resourcing differentials between publicly funded institutions in the UK already are. In 2010-11, gross income per full-time equivalent student ranged from £65,840 (University of Cambridge) to £7,050 (Edge Hill University). Even if one makes generous allowance for expensive subjects and the like, Cambridge still has more than four times the income per student of Edge Hill.

The differences are even starker when one considers institutional wealth. Leaving aside the specialist institutions, net assets (excluding pension liabilities) vary between £152 per student (Cambridge again, colleges excluded) and £4. (University of Roehampton).

Moreover, this wealth is highly concentrated: I estimate that between them, the 24 members of the enlarged Russell Group own no less than 52 per cent of the UK sector's net assets.

The changes to the funding system, on top of the ever greater concentration of research income, mean that these disparities, and the quality of the facilities and opportunities institutions are able to offer staff and students, will increase even further in the years to come. Any US academic still keen to come here needs to do their homework carefully first.

Roger Brown, Professor of higher education policy, Liverpool Hope University

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