The Department for Business Innovation and Skills has been forced to identify cuts of up to 10 per cent for the government’s 2015-16 spending review. As Times Higher Education reported last month, a plan is under consideration to find a chunk of these savings by shifting the medical education and research budgets away from the department – which would deliver around £875 million of the £1.5 billion savings that could be required.
Tony Weetman, chair of the Medical Schools Council, has now written to the chancellor on behalf of the heads of medical schools in England.
Professor Weetman, pro vice-chancellor for medicine, dentistry and health at the University of Sheffield, writes in the letter, dated 30 May, that the medical school heads want to “register their grave concern: it is absolutely imperative that medical education funding remains with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and is not moved to the Department of Health”.
He adds: “The DH has a poor record in education, with frequent raids on the education budget to support service delivery…The Medical Schools Council cannot stress strongly enough that transfer of budget responsibility for medical education and research to DH would pose a significant threat to the UK’s leading position in health research and education.”
He continues: “Huge pressures already exist within the DH and such a transfer would inevitably lead to a narrower understanding of the nation’s complex health needs. The long-term view is required if we are to educate a clinical workforce with the flexibility and skills to innovate and adapt throughout their careers.”
And Professor Weetman also refers to the proposed transfer of medical research funding to the National Institute for Health Research. The “arguments around education staying with BIS apply equally to the suggested transfer of MRC funding to NIHR”, he says.
Professor Weetman notes the “astounding” outputs of the UK’s health research compared with its inputs and says the life sciences sector is “the UK’s third largest contributor to growth”.
He concludes: “For these reasons it is not merely to the benefit of universities for these proposals to be abandoned; it is to the benefit of both patients and a government whose primary drive is to see a stronger and more efficient economy.”
The letter is also copied to David Willetts, the universities and science minister, Vince Cable, the business secretary, chief scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport and health minister Earl Howe.