University spending on library books has nearly halved during the years of Conservative rule, according to the Publishers Association.
In the old university sector, spending on books has plummeted by 45.1 per cent in real terms (RPI) since 1978/79. Last year, universities spent Pounds 22.1 million on books. But to keep pace with inflation since the 1970s, they should have spent Pounds 40 million. Every university recorded a cut except Oxford, with a modest 4.1 per cent increase in 16 years. The London Business School has seen the biggest cut, some 82.4 per cent.
There is a wide gulf between old universities, with Cambridge spending Pounds 122.68 per student and UMIST spending just Pounds 23. But the figures show that some younger universities are outspending their more traditional rivals. Dundee, spending Pounds 60.43 per student, appears in the top five institutions, ahead of St Andrews, which spends Pounds 51.47. Also, major metropolitan universities like Birmingham and Liverpool are now spending considerably less per student than many ex-polytechnics.
But generally, the new universities have fared worse than their more traditional counterparts. Books spending has fallen by 49.4 per cent, and although Sunderland allocates Pounds 66.99 per student, which would place it fourth in the old university league, All those in the bottom four places are new universities.
The new universities have also made more severe cuts in spending on periodicals. Across the board, new universities spend Pounds 26.67 per student, a fall of 21.1 per cent, whereas old universities spent Pounds 73.90 per student, an increase of 6.3 per cent. Among old universities, just under half have cut the budget for learned journals, including universities which cherish a strong research reputation, like Durham, Warwick and Birmingham. Warwick spent Pounds 698,000 in 1993/94 instead of Pounds 892,000 at 1978/79 prices. Added to a 51.6 per cent drop in book spending, Warwick is now spending Pounds 70 less per student in real terms.
Amid this gloom, which the Publishers Association calls "dismal", there are, according to John Davies of the Council of Academic and Professional Publishers, "some signs that universities have made some effort to slow down or even improve this process of decline over the last two years".
Leicester University has increased its spending on books by 54.4 per cent. Even more dramatic, Sunderland University has seen its book spending jump by 164.2 per cent.