Brown urges rise in spend on sector

June 9, 2006

Chancellor hints at higher top-ups to boost coffers, says Olga Wojtas

The UK must spend more on higher education, Chancellor Gordon Brown said this week, hinting that a rise in top-up fees might offer a means of boosting university income.

He was speaking at the launch of a Centre for European Reform (CER) pamphlet, The Future of European Universities: Renaissance or Decay?

This warns that European countries do not invest enough of their gross domestic product in higher education compared with key competitors such as Australia, Canada and the US.

The UK, France and Germany are close to the bottom of the European league: they spend only some 1.1 per cent of GDP on universities, compared with about 1.8 per cent in Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

The pamphlet states that "a government that cannot present a credible programme for investing close to 2 per cent of GDP in higher education cannot claim to be building a knowledge-based economy".

Mr Brown said: "What is clear is that spending in the order of 1.1 per cent on higher education, given the significance that we attach to universities and university research for the future of our economy, is not a figure that can stay at that level."

He was careful not to make commitments in advance of the next government spending review and said that both public and private sources must be investigated.

But he applauded the principle of top-up fees. He said they ensured that students recognised they needed to contribute to the cost of their education.

The pamphlet praises the UK's "politically brave" attempt to draw in extra funds through fees, but says these fall far short of what is needed. It predicts that all European countries will eventually have to introduce fees since they cannot devote larger shares of public funds to higher education.

The pamphlet is written by Richard Lambert, a former editor of the Financial Times who takes over as director-general of the Confederation of British Industry next month, and Nick Butler, chairman of CER and group vice-president for strategy and policy development at BP.

It is a lengthy and expensive process to create elite universities, they say. These cannot develop within a funding system that is primarily geared to regional policy or to general ideas of equality and fairness rather than to excellence.

They add that if Europe wants to stop falling behind and stem the "brain drain" across the Atlantic, it needs to devote more resources to research, improve teaching, build up centres of excellence, strengthen links between education and business, and give universities more autonomy.

olga.wojtas@thes.co.uk

 

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