Scottish government cuts higher education budget by 3 per cent

Meanwhile, education committee calls for 'further detail' from ministers on controversial governance measures

December 17, 2015
Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond

Scotland’s universities will have their budgets cut by around 3 per cent next year, but they have described this as a “good outcome”.

The Scottish government published its draft 2016-17 budget yesterday.

The higher education resource budget was set at £1.027 billion, down from £1,062 billion the previous year.

There are no tuition fees in Scotland, meaning universities are funded directly by the government.

John Swinney, finance minister in the Scottish National Party government, said in his budget speech: “The Scottish government has placed the principle of higher education based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay, at the heart of what we believe.

“I can confirm today that we will continue to fund our commitment to free tuition. And we have backed up our commitment to keeping our universities world class by investing over £4 billion in the higher education sector over the last four years.

“Now we will review this commitment investing a further £1 billion in 2016-17 to support the continued success of our world class universities delivering high quality learning and research excellence.

“But we want to go further. We want to see a new relationship with higher education: a long-term partnership underpinned by ongoing significant investment to support the delivery of key shared priorities.”

Sir Pete Downes, convenor of Universities Scotland and principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Dundee, said: “The Scottish budget proposes what we recognise as a good outcome in a time of severe financial challenges.”

He added: “We are strongly committed to delivering the best possible outcomes for Scotland with the resources proposed in this budget, and to working constructively with the Scottish government and Scottish Funding Council to maximise these outcomes.”

Relations between the SNP and Scottish universities have been strained of late by the latter’s opposition to the government’s higher education governance bill.

The Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee today publishes a report on the governance bill, which is still making its way through Parliament.

The report asks the government for “further detail” on a number of areas, notably the process by which chairs of governing bodies are to be elected – a measure that has elicited concern from universities.

The report says that “in order to inform” the next stage of debate in Parliament on the bill, “the Scottish government should provide more detail on the process envisaged, such as whether there will be a pre-selection of candidates before an election; if so, who will be responsible for conducting that process; and who exactly will form the electorate for the election of chair”.

Critics of the bill have claimed that, by increasing ministerial powers in university governance, the bill could lead to universities being reclassified as public bodies by the Office for National Statistics. It is a move that could have major financial implications.

On reclassification, the report says that the Scottish government “should publish, before the Stage 1 debate [in Parliament], the full analysis it has undertaken on this issue”.

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