'Crazy' teaching cash switch will cost science £22m, say critics

October 31, 2003

The proposals to change the way teaching is funded at English universities will cost science £22 million, according to pressure group Save British Science.

The plans, developed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, have already come under fire from the sector.

Vice-chancellors have criticised the timing of the change, which applies to next year, so close to the proposed introduction of increased fees due in 2006, while subject interest groups have condemned the plans for shifting cash into other subject areas.

This week, Peter Cotgreave, director of Save British Science, called the proposals "crazy". He said: "We can't understand how a government that talks about the importance of science education in a knowledge economy could come up with such a daft idea."

Under the proposals, money allocated to the teaching of some subjects, such as chemical engineering and physics, will increase slightly, but these rises will be far outweighed by losses sustained by other science and engineering disciplines, including biology and electronic engineering.

Dr Cotgreave said: "The real problem is that the government sets the budget without reference to the demand it makes on the universities. It insists universities must take more students, increase access, do more and better research and so on - but doesn't actually work out how much this will all cost, and then allocate funding streams accordingly.

"Making fairly arbitrary changes to the relative funding for different subjects, a year or two before the whole system will have to be reorganised because of top-up fees, isn't suddenly going to stop the available money having to be spread very thinly."

Meanwhile, the Geological Society of London added its voice to the outcry over the proposals to fund geology at a lower level. A spokesman said:

"First, the proposal seems fundamentally to misunderstand the costs associated with teaching geological sciences.

"Second, it is legitimate to ask whether the funding council's motive is not to maximise the number of subjects that can allegedly be taught more cheaply -hence achieving cost savings at a national level. Since the misery is evened out, or should be, at university level, it is not in our interests, or anyone else's, to assist the funding council in this exercise by offering no protest."

The Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association has also this week written a letter of protest to the English funding council.

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