Funding crisis will change the nature of higher education, NUS president claims

June 23, 2010

Going to university may seem “increasingly fanciful” in the next few years as the funding crisis begins to bite, the new president of the National Union of Students has said.

Aaron Porter told a conference today that the public sector squeeze would lead to a rapid and fundamental change in the relationship between higher education, the economy and the people.

In his first major speech since becoming president, Mr Porter also warned universities that students would want their money’s worth if fees increased.

His comments follow the emergency Budget’s confirmation that the sector could face cuts of 25 per cent over the next four years.

Explaining his vision for the coming years, Mr Porter told the Higher Education Futures Conference in London: “Anything on the landscape that looks like an ivory tower will be under siege. There will be fewer jobs, and they will be very different jobs.

“To go off to university for a few years to expand one’s horizons will seem increasingly fanciful. The needs of the economy from higher education, the needs of citizens from higher education, will both change rapidly and fundamentally over the next 10 years.”

He said students would also become increasingly demanding in the future and, while it was wrong to label them as consumers, they needed meaningful information on what they could expect from universities.

“Some institutions have used every penny of top-up fee income so far to plug deficits, which means that the students who paid saw literally no new investment during their studies – that is a scandal,” he said. “The fee we pay is not simply an entry fee: it is money for something – we want our money’s worth and we will get it.”

Earlier, the conference heard from Paul Marshall, chief executive of the 1994 Group of smaller research-intensive universities, who said the sector was facing “the most exciting, dramatic and completely terrifying period…for at least 30 years”.

He predicted that the government would tackle the funding crisis by, among other things, raising the status of further education and encouraging private providers to enter the market.

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