Hefce help crucial for vital but vulnerable subjects, report finds

The provision by universities of “strategically important and vulnerable” subjects such as mathematics, science and modern languages would have suffered if the funding council had not intervened with extra support, a report has concluded.

May 25, 2011

An evaluation by Curtis+Cartwright Consulting of the £350 million programme of support for such subjects carried out by the Higher Education Funding Council for England has found that it sustained courses, built research capacity and provided value for money.

However, Sir Alan Langlands, Hefce’s chief executive, warned that “difficult choices” would have to be made about how the successes of the programme – which ends this year – would be applied in the context of funding cuts.

The report, published today, says Hefce’s support had managed to send strong signals about the importance of certain subjects without heavy-handed interference in the market.

It adds that vice-chancellors report that the programme contributed to the financial health of key academic departments and raised staff morale.

It also stresses that collaboration has improved as a result of the work, with schools and higher education institutions, researchers, professional bodies and other higher education funders now working together more effectively.

Sir Alan said he was “delighted” with the “real and lasting benefits” brought to the sector by the programme, but added: “While the findings of this evaluation will influence Hefce’s future policy and approach to [strategically important and vulnerable subjects], that has to be seen in the context of significant reductions to grant and greater volatility in the new fees and funding regime.”

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said the report was a “wake-up call” for ministers.

“With so much funding soon to be removed from so many courses, a great many more important subjects will be under threat,” he warned.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Any extra money is to be welcomed. However, we have concerns that without it these strategically important subjects would have struggled. This report raises serious issues about how these courses and others without access to extra funds in the future will survive.”

David Willetts, universities and science minister, said: "These positive findings show the benefits of protecting subjects that are clearly strategically important but under threat. I am sure it will usefully inform Hefce's forthcoming review of the best uses of the remaining teaching grant."

simon.baker@tsleducation.com

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