Tuition fees: Third of English universities ‘at risk’

By politics.co.uk staff

The government’s plans for higher education will see universities facing “an era of survival of the fittest” as they deal with huge financial risk, a union has warned.

The University and Colleges Union (UCU) has released a report, just one day before the crunch vote on fees in the Commons, showing vulnerabilities in many new teaching-intensive universities which rely on arts and humanities.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said such courses will be “starved of funds” and warned that higher education was about to enter an era “in which many arts-based and teaching-focused institutions, which rely on public funding far more than the larger research-intensive universities, will face an uncertain future”.

The report found that 49 of England’s 130 higher education institutions will face serious financial trouble as a result both of an 80% cut to teaching budgets and the impact of the government’s plans to raise the cap for tuition fees to £9,000.

National Union of Students president Aaron Porter commented: “The spectre of closure for a third of universities would hugely damage the prospects of past, current and future students and their families across the country. It would also have a devastating impact on many communities, including on access, local economies and employment prospects.”

“The government must abandon their efforts to steamroller these foolish and dangerous proposals through parliament and go back to the drawing board.”

Four universities – Bishop Grosseteste University College Lincoln, Edge Hill University, Newman University College and Norwich University College of the Arts – are said to be at ‘very high’ risk.

Other affected institutions at ‘medium’ or ‘high’ risk include Sheffield Hallam, located in Nick Clegg’s constituency.

According to the UCU only those courses seen as directly benefiting the economy, such as science and engineering, will have their teaching budgets spared.

The report claims that the impact of those cuts will be felt far beyond the university walls, citing a cumulative effect on local communities and jobs in university cities and towns.

Ms Hunt added: “If we are serious about being a major player in the global knowledge economy we need institutions that offer a wide breadth of subjects and that are properly supported. The quicker politicians grasp this reality the better.”

The crucial vote on tuition fees takes place tomorrow. It is expected to be passed, but the Liberal Democrats may end up split three ways between abstainers, rebels and those voting with the government.