The Welsh government has faced renewed calls for a rethink of higher education funding after a decision to protect the sector’s research budget triggered cuts to support for part-time and postgraduate study.
The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales’ funding announcement for 2015-16, the first since the publication of the results of the research excellence framework, leaves the amount of quality-related money available unchanged from this year, at £71.1 million.
The only institutions to see an increase in their QR funding are Swansea University and Bangor University, following strong performances in the REF, while Glyndwr University will receive a small amount of QR funding for the first time. All the other Welsh universities will have their QR funding decreased next year.
The total funding being distributed by Hefcw will be reduced by £8.5 million (5.2 per cent) compared with 2014-15, to £154.2 million.
This means that funding to support part-time undergraduate teaching is being cut by £3.8 million (12.5 per cent). Funding for postgraduate taught courses is being decreased by £786,004 (11.2 per cent).
John Hughes, the vice-chancellor of Bangor University, said that the cut in postgraduate support was “certainly a worry” when Welsh ministers were yet to state whether they would follow the Westminster government in introducing loans for postgraduate students.
And although he welcomed the boost for Bangor, Professor Hughes told Times Higher Education that the overall research budget “lagged behind” the rest of the UK.
“There have been investments from the Welsh government in special initiatives such as Sêr Cymru, to attract international ‘stars’ to Wales, but there has been rather less focus on fundamental research support and obviously we would like to see that increased,” he said.
Professor Hughes added that the current policy of providing grants to subsidise the tuition fees of Welsh undergraduates who chose to study elsewhere in the UK should be ended because it was “not working for the universities”.
“The overall cost of that policy… is simply too expensive and simply cannot be sustained in the medium to long term,” he said.
The Hefcw settlement, announced on 22 May, increased Swansea’s QR funding by 19.6 per cent, from £11.5 million to £13.7 million. The biggest loser in cash terms following the REF is the University of South Wales, which sees its QR grant reduced by 45.6 per cent, from £2.8 million to £1.5 million. Cardiff University’s QR funding was cut by £555,478 to £39.8 million, but it still takes 56 per cent of the total pot.
David Blaney, Hefcw’s chief executive, said that the payment of fee grants by the Welsh government to home students studying in the country should ensure that institutions’ combined fee and public funding will not be lower than this year.
“We have done our best to support the priority areas within the resources available to us,” Dr Blaney said. “These decisions are never easy.”
A Welsh government spokesman said that higher education funding, including that for part-time and postgraduate provision, was being considered by a review led by Sir Ian Diamond, principal of the University of Aberdeen.
“We remain clear that our tuition fee policy is an investment in the young person and that the choice of institution shall be driven by individual circumstances, not cost,” the spokesman added.