Paying for the best

July 21, 2000

Higher pay for academics is part of Labour's effort to ensure world-class universities, says David Blunkett

This week, I have announced that universities and colleges are to get an earmarked Pounds 50 million to recruit and retain the high-quality staff they need to compete in the global market for people and ideas.

It is an indication that the Labour government is recognising and responding to the calls for action on university pay.

But alongside this package, I want to see improvements in the way universities manage staff.

The Pounds 50 million is part of a much larger sum that we have made public this week and that universities will receive in 2001- 02.

We recognise that investment in higher education is critical to national prosperity. Higher education generates the research and know-how that increasingly drive innovation and change in the economy. And with rising numbers of people going to university or college, social justice increasingly depends on fairness in access to the opportunities and rewards that higher education brings.

Under the last administration, funding per student was cut by a huge 36 per cent - more than Pounds 2,550 - in the years between 1989 and 1996-97. It would have been cut by a further 6.5 per cent had the Labour government not decided to hold the efficiency savings imposed on universities at 1 per cent a year. By making tough choices on student funding, we were able to generate extra money for raising standards and expanding opportunities in universities and colleges.

As a result, we have to date been able to announce investment of more than 11 per cent extra in real terms in higher education in this parliament. Now we can go further. In 2001-02, for the first time in more than ten years, higher education spending per student will rise. More than Pounds 100 million will be added to higher education spending in 2001-02.

The Office of Science and Technology will also increase funding for research by Pounds 250 million over three years, in particular for research into genomics, e-science and basic technology. The Department of Trade and Industry will triple the funding of the interaction between universities and businesses by 2003-04.

This is on top of the announcement on July 5 made by the chancellor of the exchequer, (trade and industry secretary) Stephen Byers and myself of a package worth Pounds 1 billion, in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, for further improving the research infrastructure in higher education over two years from 2002-03. And postgraduate stipends in science and technology are to be increased to Pounds 9,000 by 2003-04, an increase I have also made to studentships in the arts and humanities.

The settlement takes further the vision for higher education I outlined at Greenwich University earlier this year. It will provide start-up funds for the e-universities project, which will exploit modern technology in new forms of distance learning, and will provide money for the development of vocationally orientated foundation degrees, giving new opportunities for students to develop key employability skills.

Finally, we will redeem our pledge to widen access to higher education. I said at Greenwich that higher education must become a force for social justice. The package I have announced will help leading universities recruit a body of students that properly reflects the population. It will fund summer schools for young people and teachers from state schools; better links between academics and teachers; and outreach work and other improvements to university and college admissions programmes.

We will be working closely with Peter Lampl and the Sutton Trust and others to deliver change. I am very pleased that Peter has agreed to act as an adviser on the next stages of our programme to encourage more disadvantaged children into universities. He will report regularly to me on the progress that is being made.

Unlike the previous government, I regard higher education as an investment, not a drain on resources. The challenge is now to use this extra money with confidence, securing diversity and excellence for an expanded student population.

David Blunkett is secretary of state for education and employment.

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