Scottish election: tackle ‘systemic underinvestment’ in universities, says MillionPlus

Scottish MillionPlus member universities account for nearly 56% of students in HE and say ‘per student’ funding has fallen since 2014/15

The leaders of seven of Scotland’s universities have called on the next Scottish Government to tackle “underfunding” for students, research and knowledge exchange over the next five years, as the Holyrood election draws near.

MillionPlus, the association for modern UK universities, today launched its Scottish election manifesto ahead of polling day on Thursday, 6 May.

The association represents 23 UK universities – including seven in Scotland, which comprise nearly 56% of students enrolled in higher education north of the border.

The seven Scottish MillionPlus vice-chancellors want the next government to sign up to five pledges, the first being to increase the ‘per student’ investment in Scottish HE and reverse the “long-standing, systemic and structural underinvestment in teaching and research”.

A 2019 Audit Scotland report showed real-term public investment in the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) reduced by 7% in the three years to 2017-18. Scottish MillionPlus members are worst affected, the manifesto argues, because they derive around seven in every £10 of income from the SFC.

Almost 60% of full-time students at modern universities are from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and we hope the next government will give proper consideration to the institutions which have and continue to do the heavy lifting
Prof Nigel Seaton, principal of Abertay University

The manifesto calls on parliament to establish a new “Public Services Education Capital Investment programme” to invest in “high-quality, high-tech simulation equipment and other infrastructure” in Scottish universities. Extra infrastructure would increase places on healthcare, medicine, science and engineering courses, the report says.

Teaching students from disadvantaged students requires more resources, and the next parliament should recognise this reality by expanding investment in widening participation work, the manifesto continues.

“A recent report by the Scottish Government on the impacts of Covid-19 on fair access to higher education concluded that the greatest burden has fallen on those institutions with the highest proportion of students from disadvantaged areas,” the manifesto argues.

“Modern universities are sector leaders in ensuring access, with 57% of full-time students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds; 66% of full-time mature students and 42% of all care-experienced students choosing to study at modern universities.

“Investment from the Scottish government should recognise the higher costs of teaching students with varying levels of preparedness for university, who often also lack the social and financial capital of students from more advantaged backgrounds.”

MillionPlus is calling for graduate apprenticeships to be fully funded from state coffers and receive extra investment to improve “university-business partnerships”.

“These graduate apprenticeships are often in new and emerging sectors of the economy and offer businesses opportunities to secure a highly-skilled modern workforce to drive growth,” the manifesto says.

The fifth priority set out in the manifesto would see the government “commit to long-term, sustainable investment in research and knowledge exchange” – although it sets out no indicative measures or figures for this commitment.

Prof Nigel Seaton, principal of Abertay University and MillionPlus Executive member, said: “With the launch of this manifesto, we ask all MSP candidates to commit to properly fund modern universities in Scotland so they can continue to provide life-changing education opportunities across the length and breadth of Scotland.

“Scotland’s seven modern universities are significantly underfunded, and the next government should seek to redress this by increasing per-student teaching funding.

“Underfunding our modern universities puts at risk the progress made in recent years to widen access to higher education. Almost 60% of full-time students at modern universities are from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and we hope the next government will give proper consideration to the institutions which have and continue to do the heavy lifting when it comes to giving opportunities to all who can benefit from higher education.”

The Scottish MillionPlus members are Glasgow Caledonian, the West of Scotland, Edinburgh Napier, Robert Gordon, the Highlands and Islands, Queen Margaret and Abertay universities. Together, they educate approximately 145,000 students in Scotland studying at these universities.

Read more: Scottish universities: current funding levels ‘serious sustainability problem’

Image via Flickr.

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