More than Pounds 400 million is needed urgently to update teaching equipment in English and Welsh universities, according to a report out this week.
Backed by the higher education funding councils for England and Wales, the study by Manchester University researchers found that unless the investment is made, institutions will be unable to maintain the quality of teaching and learning.
The findings are based on case studies of seven higher education institutions and a survey of spending on teaching equipment in 54.
It concludes that the Pounds 400 million shortfall compares with an estimated total spend of Pounds 500 million on teaching equipment over the past three years. Four-fifths of universities and more than half the further education colleges surveyed said a significant number of their staff were unable to teach effectively because of inadequate equipment. Specific urgent needs are for laboratory and engineering equipment, particularly computer hardware and software, audio-visual resources and networking facilities. Demand for such equipment is likely to increase.
HEFCE said: "Despite efforts by academic staff to cope using existing resources, students are often being trained on obsolete equipment that has been superseded in the workplace."
The study also found that institutions spend a fraction of their annual budgets on teaching equipment. The mean annual spend for universities is under Pounds 2 million. The annual spend per full-time equivalent student is also low at Pounds 135 to Pounds 190.
Luke Georghiou, director of Manchester University's Policy Research in Engineering, Science and Technology (PREST), which carried out the study, said: "The issue of overall funding for universities is paramount - equipment budgets are the first to be squeezed in times of financial stringency." But there are challenges for universities as well. Professor Georghiou said, as fee-paying consumers, students will be increasingly sensitive to the quality of equipment provided and this will affect competition between institutions.
"Employers have already made it clear that they expect recruits to be trained on up-to-date equipment. The question of who pays for this equipment will be with us for some time," he said.
The case studies were of the universities of Manchester Metropolitan; East London; Nottingham; Oxford and University of Wales, Swansea and two colleges: Swansea Institute of Higher Education and Surrey Institute of Art and Design.