Sector better off under Tories, says AUT study

April 30, 2004

Higher education was better off ten years ago under a Conservative government than it is today under Labour, an analysis by the Association of University Teachers shows.

Figures from the AUT show that public spending on higher education and student support fell 7.5 per cent in real terms between 1994-95 and 2003-04.

The proportion of gross domestic product spent on higher education was 0.64 per cent in 1994-95 compared with 0.63 per cent this year.

The reason for the fall is a 56 per cent drop in real-terms public spending on student support, according to a paper by Stephen Court, the AUT's senior research officer.

While the state spent nearly £3.7 billion on student support, including grants, in 1994-95, planned spending this year is just £1.6 billion.

Meanwhile, public spending on higher education, excluding student support, rose by 25 per cent in real terms from nearly £5.5 billion in 1994-95 to an estimated £6.9 billion this year.

Mr Court said: "This is disappointing because, although education was a priority area, this did not filter through to higher education."

Figures are based on the Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses (Pesa) 2004, published last week, which detail the changes in government expenditure on each public service back to 1965-66. Figures for 2003-04 are estimated outturn figures for the year.

Pesa figures show that spending on education as a whole has grown 39 per cent in real terms, with the education budget rising from £42.8 billion in 1994-95 to an estimated £59.4 billion this year.

Science has also done well under new Labour. The budget stood at £1.5 billion in 1994-95, dipping to just under £1.5 billion between 1998 and 2000 before increasing year on year, reaching an estimated £2.2 billion this year.

But Mr Court pointed out that the UK still spent a lower proportion of GDP on higher education than the average for member states of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In 2000, the OECD average was 1.3 per cent compared with the 1 per cent of GDP spent on higher education in the UK. Bringing the UK up to the OECD average implied nearly £3.2 billion more for higher education at 2002-03 prices, Mr Court said.

He said that this would go some way towards meeting the £10 billion shortfall in higher education spending identified in the AUT's submission to this summer's government spending review.

The submission says that an extra £972 million is needed in 2005-06, nearly £4 billion more in 2006-07 and almost £5.2 billion extra in 2007-08.

Mandy Telford, president of the National Union of Students, said: "What is doubly galling is that instead of improving this situation there are now plans to make students pay even more by creating a market in higher education to compensate for those years of underinvestment."

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said that the AUT paper had "deliberately" ignored the historical context.

He said that the student grant had been cut since 1990 and that the amount spent on each student had been cut since 1976. The spokesman said that the current government had instead stabilised these cuts and started to reverse them.

He also accused the AUT of ignoring the reintroduction of £1,000-a-year grants this year and a total student support package of £2,700 a year from 2006. The loan repayment threshold was also being increased to Pounds 15,000, he said.

"If the AUT would like to harp back to a time when higher education was in decline, that is a matter for them. This government will instead focus on the future of higher education," he said.

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