Universities Scotland (US) has criticised the Scottish government’s budget for 2022/23, saying it fails to recognise the “emergency” facing universities due to the impact of Covid-19.
The Scottish Government’s 2022/23 budget was published by finance secretary Kate Forbes on 9 December.
The SNP administration pledged to invest in universities and research, tackle the digital divide with £5m for post-18 edtech, and support the recommendations of the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) review of tertiary education and research.
Total spending on education and skills for 2022-23 is £4.2bn.
The SFC will receive £1.97bn in 2022-23, an increase of £62.8 million on the previous year. But the total HE resource – which broadly covers university revenue – increases by £21m, to £789m. The HE capital budget will rise by £2m to £348m, the majority of which is used to support research.
These small percentage uplifts received short shrift from Scottish HE leaders, who had called for a multi-year spending settlement.
US, which represents Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions, points out that this uplift is to fund the additional undergraduate places created in 2020 and 2021 as a consequence of the changes to SQA exam assessments in schools during the pandemic – and that it does not boost the level of funding available per undergraduate student. There is now £869 less spent on each undergraduate per year than in 2014/15.
Spending plans for 2022-23 show a £1.02bn earmarked for higher education student support – a cut of £3.8bn from 2021-22. Most of this student support funding is allocated to the cost of providing student loans for Scottish students studying in countries where there are tuition fees.
Advanced Learning and Science will also see a slight boost, receiving £22.9 million, up from £20.6 million.
We had hoped that the Scottish Government would recognise the need to invest more in our students, on a per student basis, given the huge disruption they have faced as a group and the quantifiable toll the past two years has taken on their academic and mental wellbeing – Professor Sir Gerry McCormac, Universities Scotland
In its budget submission, US had argued it was “crucial” the Scottish government “sustains and grows its support for the university sector so that we can co-create the nation’s recovery and transformation”.
A three-year spending commitment topped the list of policies in the US budget submission. The mission group wanted an annual uplift of nearly £242 million until 2024/25 as well as Covid recovery-focused funding. At this summer’s election, US called state funding a serious “sustainability” problem for the sector.
US said it had also lost the “Covid consequentials” funding it received last year, leaving the sector having to meet annual costs of “circa £7 million” for some multi-year commitments including several hundred graduate apprenticeships.
Responding to the budget, Professor Sir Gerry McCormac, convener of US said:
“Our initial assessment is that this budget will cut university funding for teaching and research in real terms in 2022/23. This leaves universities with less resource to meet the very real needs of our students and staff and less resource to invest in university research as a driver of economic growth and as a substantial means of bringing in further investment into Scotland.
“We had hoped that the Scottish Government would recognise the need to invest more in our students, on a per student basis, given the huge disruption they have faced as a group and the quantifiable toll the past two years has taken on their academic and mental wellbeing. Year on year cuts to the resource invested in their education, since 2014/15, are reaching a critical point.
“It seems that universities have lost all of the Covid consequential funding from last year which addressed the first-year of multi-year commitments. It is far from clear as to how this scale of cut can possibly be absorbed by universities given our declining core budgets.
“Our Funding Council uses the term ’emergency’ to describe the impact of the pandemic on universities yet there is nothing in this budget which acknowledges this situation.
“Universities need to see these chronic funding challenges addressed in the multi-year spending review process next year and, more immediately, if new Covid consequential funding becomes available from the UK government, we believe that higher education has a very strong case given its significant role in supporting the recovery.”
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