After a long wait, and some “interesting” photos on Twitter, the annual letter from BIS to HEFCE has finally seen the light of dawn, delayed after the unexpected news of changes to student number controls in the Autumn Statement.
From the HEFCE website:
The settlement will mean reductions in HEFCE funding for higher education institutions in 2014-15 and again in 2015-16 beyond those accounted for by the switch to publicly funded tuition fees. The Government has asked HEFCE to deliver the reductions in ways which protect as far as possible high-cost subjects (including STEM), widening participation (which is funded via the HEFCE Student Opportunity allocation), and small and specialist institutions.
Universities UK have commented, saying:
Funding for the Autumn Statement policy announcement, and for science and research more generally, will continue to be protected, while HEFCE has been asked to develop the mechanisms to ensure that cuts in funding don’t translate directly into deterioration of the student experience.
This is not an easy trick to pull off. All parts of the public sector are being asked to deliver more with reduced funding, and the university sector is no exception. The flagship policy of removing the cap on student numbers is the right one – both for individuals and for the economy. But it will be challenging to deliver in the face of continuing restrictions on income and cuts to direct grant funding.
Universities are adapting well to this new policy framework, but navigating the transitional period before a return to growth remains a significant challenge. The risk remains that further cuts will undermine the ability of the sector to continue delivering on important economic and social goals, and the basis for future growth will be eroded. We all have a strong stake in ensuring that situation doesn’t come about
From the actual letter from BIS we see:
“However, in the context of stretched public finances, it has been necessary to make reductions to the indicative recurrent teaching budget for 14-15. Further recurrent savings will be required in 15-16. It is for you to take decisions on how you allocate your budgets. But you should deliver savings in ways that protect as far as possible high cost subjects (including STEM), widening participation and small and specialist institutions”
The details are provided in subsequent appendices.
On social mobility, Appendix 1 states “We therefore want you to bring together funding which supports student retention and success, specifically the Student Opportunity fund and the Access to Learning Fund.”. This meas the removal of the Access to Learning Fund, which provides £37m of grants to the poorest students.
On student experience:
“The Council’s review of public information on higher education should consider whether there are better indicators, such as measures of student engagement, to provide information on what a high quality student experience looks like. We expect the Council to continue to identify improvements through pilot studies over the coming year as well as setting in train longer term improvements for the benefit of future cohorts. The work should include providing students with greater transparency on how institutions use income and how we can maximise the impact of the QAA’s guidance to institutions on publishing staff teaching qualifications, student evaluations, class size and student”.
This seems to link into other working going on to establish performance indicators that can be used across the sector, and possibly an enhanced version of KIS. Our commitment to increasing the numbers of staff with HEA fellowships, or postgaduate teaching qualifications will go some way to satisfying at least one of these requirements. Whether these indicators actually measure student experience, is of course debatable!
On science and research: “The ring fenced settlement for Science and Research resource means that we can continue to support research and related training through to 2015-16 through the Dual Support framework.”
On research excellence, HEFCE are urged to use the outcomes of the REF “to inform research allocations from 2015 onwards. Increasing Open Access (OA) to research outputs is a key Government objective which should be supported by research assessment methodology and by the QR research funding stream in due course.”
On efficiency (and ignoring for the moment the comments on pay restraint for senior staff)
“There is an onus on institutions to demonstrate that they offer value for the fees students pay. At the same time, there remains a cross Government imperative to ensure that public money is spent efficiently……..drive further and faster improvements in efficiency, for example, considering pension costs and ways to reduce regulatory and bureaucratic burden. Ministers from this Department and HM Treasury have also asked Professor Sir Ian Diamond to carry out a further review of efficiency in Higher Education Institutions. We want the Council to work with Professor Diamond’s review, which aims to produce an interim report in Summer and present final conclusions by February 2015.”
I’m not sure how this statement about efficiency and bureaucracy links to the previous comments on student experience and provision of extra information, which will no doubt provide an added administrative burden for universities. Will we see a recommendation of things that can actually be dropped?
For a last word, let’s move to the Times Higher Education, and this quotation:
Michael Gunn, vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University and chair of the university group Million+, described the retention of the student opportunity fund as a “victory for common sense”. But he said it was “still disappointing that the overall grant is being cut”