News in brief

December 31, 2009

Budget squeeze

Historic-building fund scrapped

A £40 million fund to help universities preserve their historic buildings has been axed in a move that will see the universities of Oxford and Cambridge lose millions of pounds a year. Following a consultation, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has withdrawn its old and historic building fund as part of a package of measures designed to meet government cuts to the higher education budget in 2010-11. The decision will have the biggest impact on Oxbridge: Oxford receives £5.1 million a year from the fund, and Cambridge gets £4.2 million. Hefce is also scrapping a funding stream that helps universities meet the costs of taught masters courses and is reducing its £24 million pool that gives extra support to institutions delivering foundation degrees.

Pay agreement

No rise until all concur

Higher education staff have yet to see a 0.5 per cent pay rise in their wages, despite two more unions formally accepting the figure. GMB has accepted the Universities and Colleges Employers Association offer, and Unite members have voted to do the same. Unison has already accepted 0.5 per cent, while the University and College Union has said it will not oppose it. But the Educational Institute of Scotland is still deciding its position, and until all five higher education unions have accepted, there can be no national deal. After the EIS declared a dispute with Ucea, meetings between the two parties were held on 14 and 17 December. With the dispute-resolution process at an end, the EIS will consider its position at a meeting of its executive on 6 January.


New limits on student numbers

Limits on the number of students Scottish universities can recruit without facing financial penalties have been tightened. Last year, universities could admit unlimited numbers to priority subjects including science, technology, engineering and mathematics, despite limits in other disciplines. But institutions have now been told that they will be limited to a 10 per cent increase in priority subjects in 2010-11, while growth in other disciplines should not exceed 7 per cent. Modern languages will be classed as a priority subject for the first time.

General election

We'll axe fees, say Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats are to include a plan to scrap student tuition fees in their general election manifesto. Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, said on 18 December that the party had "developed a plan to phase out tuition fees over the course of the next six years, to ensure this vital policy is affordable even at this time of economic crisis". If the Lib Dems were to win the election, final-year tuition fees would be the first to go, with all fees axed by 2015.


Call for journal-access policy

The issue of access to journal articles and books must be addressed if the UK research community is to operate effectively, a report says. Overcoming Barriers: Access to Research Information Content, by the Research Information Network, says researchers are encountering difficulties in accessing the content they need and this is having a significant impact on their work. It suggests the introduction of UK-wide access and borrowing rights at all higher education institutions to tackle the problem.

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