Augar plans could be ‘devastating’ for research, peers warn

Lords committee says Augar panel ‘missed mark’ in not considering how reducing tuition fees could force universities to divert research income to teaching

August 8, 2019
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The recommendations from the Augar review of English post-18 education could have “significant unintended consequences for research”, a parliamentary committee has warned.

If tuition fees are cut to £7,500, as the review has recommended, and the loss of income is not fully compensated by replacement teaching grant, universities will be forced to use income meant for research to make up the loss of teaching funds, according to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.

Its report says that the review, led by Philip Augar, failed to assess the potential impact of the reductions in student fees on research and the potential “severe financial consequences for universities”.

Although the Augar review recommends that the cut is counterbalanced with a top-up to ensure universities do not lose income overall, witnesses told the Lords committee they were concerned that the Treasury may implement the fee cut without the increase in the teaching grant, “particularly given the report’s request for additional funding for further education”, the committee says.

Jo Johnson, since reinstated as the universities and science minister, told the committee it was “highly unlikely” that the fee cut and enhanced top-up grant “would go in tandem”.

The Lords report says that if the government is to follow any of the recommendations of the Augar review relating to tuition fees, it must implement them as a full financial package. The committee warns that any loss in funding would require universities to divert funding towards teaching and away from resources that support research, with an impact that would be “absolute and dramatic for research, causing us to lose both quality and volume”.

The problems for research are compounded by the uncertainty around Brexit, the immigration regime and the potential loss of European Union funding if Britain does not become an associate member of Horizon Europe, says the report.

The report also criticises the Augar review for recommending that the Office for Students determine what level of replacement teaching grant would be available for individual institutions and subjects. “We do not believe that the Office for Students is the right body to make these decisions”, the report says.

Committee chair Lord Patel said that the Augar review “completely missed the mark by not considering research funding in its review”.

“By ignoring research and cross-subsidies, it has made recommendations which, if implemented, could prove harmful to the already challenging ecosystem of university funding,” he said. “Any shortfall in funding would become unmanageable.”

“The immediate casualties will likely be widening-participation programmes, student experience, infrastructure maintenance and repair, and the hands-on elements of courses,” he added  “Without adequate research funding, the consequences for the UK will be devastating and the UK risks falling behind other countries.”

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