OfS funding cuts: Russell Group warns of “inevitable” impact on higher education

Russell Group and other sector voices raise alarm about future of universities following confirmation of OfS funding changes

The Russell Group has warned it is “inevitable” that higher education in England will be harmed by underfunding, after the Office for Students (OfS) confirmed its changes to funding yesterday.

The changes the OfS is making to the distribution of funding to universities and colleges for 2021-22 include abolishing London-weighted grants for universities in the capital – and slashing funding worth £20 million to “high-cost” arts subjects in England.

“The decision to increase government funding for skilled specialist subjects like medicine, science, technology and engineering, which have been underfunded for many years, is a positive step,” said a spokesperson for the association of 24 research-intensive universities.

“However, it is disappointing those gains are at the cost of other subjects such as creative arts and London-weighting where universities face higher costs and there are some of the country’s most deprived areas.”

We would urge government to consider an ambitious and sustainable approach to funding high-quality university teaching in all subjects – Russell Group spokesperson

The Russell Group went on to raise the alarm about university funding in general:

“Even with these increases, the Office for Students’ own analysis shows that the funding it provides to universities per full-time equivalent student will fall by almost 20% in the three years to 2021-22 once increasing student numbers are taken into account. The impact of this on universities is compounded by the erosion of tuition fee income by inflation.

“It is inevitable that this will have an impact on choice and quality in UK higher education.

“Given the importance of high-level skills to the nation as it recovers from the pandemic and looks to build on its research and innovation strengths for future economic growth, we would urge government to consider an ambitious and sustainable approach to funding high-quality university teaching in all subjects as it prepares for the comprehensive spending review this autumn.”

Nolan Smith, director of resources and finance at the OfS, said yesterday that it would “continue to work with the government and others to ensure our funding continues to make a positive impact across the higher education sector.”

These cuts to London weighting represent a body blow to our local community – Professor Frances Corner, Goldsmiths

Other senior figures within English higher eduction have also responded with dismay to the OfS statement.

Professor Frances Corner, warden of Goldsmiths, University of London said:

“This announcement takes an axe to creative arts education and threatens to have a devastating impact on London universities and their surrounding communities.

“With our home borough of Lewisham being among England’s poorest areas the withdrawal of this funding looks more like ‘punching down’ than ‘levelling up’. Our activities generate £91m for Lewisham supporting over 3,600 jobs in the borough. These cuts to London weighting represent a body blow to our local community as it tries to recover from Covid-19.

“We estimate these changes will see us lose over £2m in funding every year, particularly impacting the funding for teaching creative courses, many of whose graduates go on to work in the creative industries that the government’s own figures show are worth £111bn a year to the UK economy.

“We should be investing more in universities in England’s poorest boroughs and more in the graduates who make sectors such as Britain’s film and television industries a £20.8bn a year success story.”

The general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) Jo Grady described the grant changes as “one of the biggest attacks on arts and entertainment in English universities in living memory”.


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