Political parties think universities are too toxic to touch, says provost

UCL’s Michael Arthur discusses fears for lack of long-term financial support and of a British exit from the EU

May 7, 2015

Source: Getty

Caution: institutions will ‘struggle to survive’ if investment levels stay the same

No political party has demonstrated a long-term policy that will ensure that the UK university sector remains one of the strongest in the world, the president and provost of University College London has said.

Michael Arthur told a conference in London that his “biggest fear” regarding higher education was that the sector “remained in the ‘too toxic politically’ bracket, and that we’re not appropriately looked after in terms of thinking through the long-term future and funding of higher education”.

Speaking ahead of the 7 May general election, Professor Arthur said that even if funding and fees stayed at their current levels, universities were in “quite a bit of trouble”.

“Our costs escalate each year, and our income is not escalating,” he said. “There is not a single party that has demonstrated to my satisfaction that it has thought through the long-term consequences of how it is going to cope with funding higher education at a level that allows us to remain internationally competitive.”

He added that although the UK had arguably “the best [higher education] system in the world at the moment”, it would not stay that way if it was not looked after.

Illustrating the financial pressures on universities, he described how institutions would struggle if investment were to be kept at current levels.

A flat cash settlement on the science budget equated to a “6 per cent cut per annum”, because research costs were rising, he said, while “flat £9,000 fees [mean] at least a 3, possibly 4, per cent cut [to universities] per annum. That’s compounded now over three, four years, and is beginning to bite. It is beginning to hurt the budgetary picture across the sector.”

The squeeze, he said, was felt most acutely by Russell Group institutions because “the gap in research costs versus research funding is growing and growing and growing”.

Professor Arthur, speaking at a student experience seminar before the Whatuni Student Choice Awards last month, also said that his biggest hope was that the UK remained in the European Union. His comments came after remarks by Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, on the risks to research funding of a British exit from the EU.

“I think it would be unbelievably retrograde to withdraw [from the EU],” Professor Arthur said.

“It would cause problems for us with all of our European colleagues, and it would cause huge problems for recruiting students from around Europe, who…add a huge amount to the culture of our universities. And, of course, there is also EU [research] funding.”

chris.parr@tesglobal.com

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Reader's comments (1)

"“I think it would be unbelievably retrograde to withdraw [from the EU],” Professor Arthur said. “It would cause problems for us with all of our European colleagues, and it would cause huge problems for recruiting students from around Europe, who…add a huge amount to the culture of our universities. And, of course, there is also EU [research] funding.”" This VC should improve his institution in terms of UK ranking,-3rd position after Oxbridge at least..This institution should recruit more UK students, than trying to act as global university UCL cannot live on its past glory.. Since arriving as the VC of UCL from U of Leeds, what has he actually achieved at UCL? In terms of European research, except a very small core, doubtful UCL is in this core,UK universities have not done well.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Lecturer in Innovation and Enterprise UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL LANCASHIRE
Senior Lecturer in Project Management UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL LANCASHIRE
Research Fellow UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL LANCASHIRE
Head of Student Systems and Records YORK ST JOHN UNIVERSITY

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Microlight pilot flies with flock of cranes

Reports of UK-based researchers already thinking of moving overseas after Brexit vote

Portrait montage of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage

From Donald Trump to Brexit, John Morgan considers the challenges of a new international political climate