Support for historic buildings removed

Oxford and Cambridge hit hardest by Hefce’s withdrawal of £40 million fund. Rebecca Attwood reports

December 21, 2009

A £40 million fund that helps universities preserve their historic buildings has been axed in a move that will cost the universities of Oxford and Cambridge millions of pounds a year.

Following a period of consultation, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has withdrawn its old and historic building fund as one of a package of measures designed to meet government cuts to the higher education budget in 2010-11.

The decision will have the biggest impact on Oxford and Cambridge: the University of Oxford currently receives £5.1 million a year from the fund, and the University of Cambridge gets £4.2 million.

A spokesman for Cambridge said the university was “extremely disappointed” by the decision and warned that further cuts would endanger the university’s top-class status.

“The university is extremely disappointed to learn that government support for its historic buildings has been removed,” he said.

“The university will nevertheless continue to give high priority to the preservation of its historic buildings. It will attempt to cover the shortfall in funding of more than £4 million from general cost savings in order to ensure that it does not affect the standard of education provided to our students.

“It is clear, however, that further significant cuts are inevitable, and the longer term will be challenging. The university cannot continue to absorb cuts indefinitely while remaining in the top rank worldwide.”

At a meeting on November, Hefce’s board also agreed to end another special stream of funding for universities – originally called the long-course premium – that predominantly helps universities meet the costs of postgraduate taught masters courses.

The funding council is also reducing the £24 million pool that gives extra support to institutions delivering foundation degrees, although this decision will be kept under review.

When the proposals were first put forward in July, universities warned that they needed the additional cash because of the financial costs associated with employers’ high levels of involvement in foundation degrees.

Earlier this month, Alistair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced £600 million cuts to higher education in the pre-Budget report, to be implemented between 2011 and 2013.

The sector is bracing itself for the possibility of more bad news in the annual grant letter from the Government to Hefce. The document, which will set out details of university funding for 2010-11, is expected soon.

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