Campaigning v-cs push for a new deal

July 24, 1998

Welcome spending spree. Universities, science and further education say what more money will mean

THE government's decision to direct new funds to higher education following its comprehensive spending review is clear recognition of the contribution universities and the academic community make to economic competitiveness and prosperity.

Universities will make good use of the extra resources. The news is an important second step in our campaign for extra investment. The first step was when universities succeeded in reversing cuts planned for 1998-99 by the addition of significant sums (including Pounds 165 million in England) to the grant for that year.

This "base-line" budget has had a boost: in England an extra Pounds 280 million for 1999-2000, a real-terms increase of 3 per cent. Similar figures have been announced for Scotland to 2002. Wales and Northern Ireland awaits news.

This new money will bring a second year of lower efficiency savings for universities - at 1 per cent maximum - after years of cuts amounting to 38 per cent per student. It brings some financial stability and comes as student numbers are to rise. It compares favourably with efficiency savings targets for the National Health Service (3 per cent), social services (2-3 per cent) and up to 10 per cent for some other departments.

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals' submission to government focused on two commitments: to social inclusion, now recognised by more funded students; and to economic competitiveness, acknowledged by the three-year research funding boost. This was clearly the right strategy.

We called for up-to-date teaching facilities, especially in information technology. And we need details of how new funds will be deployed and what is intended for the second and third years in England.

We emphasised in our submission the need for adequate staff rewards. The suggestion to the contrary in last week's THES editorial was wholly unfounded. Our arguments on salaries have as yet cut little ice. To have failed to deploy the potentially winning arguments at our disposal would have been reprehensible; to be denounced for lack of headway on pay when no public-sector employees have had their case recognised seems unwarranted.

New money for research - the Pounds 1.1 billion from the Department of Trade and Industry and additional sums for the funding councils - is a welcome boost. The CVCP had pressed for more investment in research equipment and facilities, as well as in people. We had demonstrated how far behind the United Kingdom was falling.

The pattern of increase in the education budget generally is: 1999-2000 - Pounds 3 billion; 2000-01 - Pounds 6 billion; 2001-02 - Pounds 10 billion. Higher education funding needs a similar spending pattern.

With the Teaching and Higher Education Bill arriving on the statute books and student tuition fees, it is important to remind government of the "compact" Lord Dearing set out. Fee-paying students will expect high-quality teaching and facilities. With government help, we can contribute fully to the lifelong learning agenda.

Martin Harris Chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals.

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