A gain of 3% is still a squeeze for the majority

March 3, 2000

This week's funding allocations for higher education in England show a continuing squeeze on higher education in general and, within the total, a winner-takes-all phenomenon.

Overall cash is up 3 per cent, half a percentage point on inflation, but it has to cover more students. It also includes private money via fees. Fees have so far afforded higher education an end to cuts, not an increase in per capita resources.

The 3 per cent is not evenly spread. More than 50 universities and colleges will have lower incomes in real terms next year, and among the worst hit are specialist institutions trying to counter escalating shortages of teachers.

Meanwhile the winners turn out to be the big hitters who already scoop the research pool. Calculations (admittedly crude) of the cash available per student show how far higher education institutions are now diverging. Income for research is, of course, spent on research but the effect is that research-rich universities are thronged with very bright young people at PhD and postdoctoral level greatly enriching the intellectual excitement of the place.

It is this evident divergence that is now sharpening the

fees argument. Public money is limited, and it is increasingly flowing into the most privileged universities. Most students attend institutions that are in danger of becoming second

rate for lack of investment in a rich learning environment. The best, while not good enough, is becoming the enemy of the good.

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