Elite face cuts to teaching grant

August 29, 2003

Teaching grants for universities offering traditional degrees will be raided to pay for courses favoured by government under proposals by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

If the plans go ahead, it will be the second consecutive year that teaching grants made to elite universities are slashed to support non-traditional students.

This year, money was diverted to cover the costs of helping students who had low entry qualifications and those who came from poor neighbourhoods.

Next year, Hefce plans to introduce a 10 per cent premium for students on foundation degree courses and for part-time students. But the overall funding for teaching will remain constant, meaning that it will essentially be taken from full-time degree courses.

The plans, which are out for consultation, state: "The method by which we allocate teaching funding does not affect the total amount of funding available.

"In other words, the net effect of all changes to grant across all institutions will amount to zero, with an increase in one area or one institution implying a reduction for others."

Rodney Eastwood, director of policy and planning at Imperial College London, said: "While it is appropriate for the funding council to recognise the additional costs associated with foundation degrees and part-time students, it should at least investigate the costs of teaching the same subject in different institutions. It may be that there are legitimate reasons why it is more expensive in one institution compared with another."

The government aims to meet its manifesto pledge of half of young people experiencing higher education by 2010 by increasing the number of foundation degrees.

January's white paper says that tuition fees for foundation degrees should be set lower than those for full degrees.

But a separate study for the English funding council found that foundation degrees were more expensive to teach because they entailed partnerships with further education colleges and employers.

Extra places for students taking foundation degrees will account for a third of the expansion this autumn. Hefce has allocated 9,250 new places, some 2,760 of which are at foundation degree level. Half the foundation degree places will be full time and half part time, and they will attract a 20 per cent premium under the proposed funding method.

From next year, the lion's share of the premiums will go to new universities - Kingston University will have 230 foundation degree places, while other big winners include City University, Bournemouth University, Plymouth University, Teesside University and Bolton Institute of Higher Education.

Institutions with large numbers of part-time students will also benefit from the changes. The Open University's 10 per cent premium is worth an extra £12 million, while Birkbeck College, London, will see a cash injection of £1.7 million.

A spokeswoman for Universities UK said the organisation would comment only after consulting its members. But UUK has previously expressed concern at the practice of cutting teaching grants to divert the money elsewhere.

As part of the proposals, Hefce also intends to modify the weighting for different subjects. At present, each subject is allocated to one of four weightings, depending on how expensive it is to teach. A fifth category will be inserted, switching funds from institutions teaching clinical subjects, biosciences, the social sciences and languages to those teaching chemistry, physics and the humanities.

* Hefce this week named the universities to which it has given permission to expand full-time undergraduate provision this autumn. They include the universities of Newcastle, Sheffield, York, Warwick and Essex.

Hefce suspended the annual round of bidding for extra places for next year.

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