The Russell Group and University Alliance have warned the government to rethink proposed changes to higher education teaching grants, which would reduce funding to some arts subjects and London universities.
In January, ministers asked the Office for Students to review the Strategic Priorities Grant, formerly known as the Teaching Grant, and axe London weighting from all its grants.
The two mission groups – which collectively comprise 36 universities and span research-intensive giants like UCL and teaching-intensive leaders like UWE – independently responded to an OfS consultation on the changes.
The Russell Group labelled the plans “disappointing” and called for an “ambitious and sustainable approach” to funding when the Department for Education and Treasury respond to the Augar review later this year. University Alliance accused ministers of a “strategic misstep”, warning cuts to creative arts risk making them “the preserve of a small group of elite students”.
High-cost, high-value subjects – such as medicine, engineering and other STEM subjects – would receive £85m more from this September, bringing total spending to £735m, indicative figures suggest. Other high-cost subjects – performing arts, creative arts, media studies and archaeology – would have SPG funding cut by 50%, with further reductions sought in future years. These subjects, awarded £40m this academic year, will see SPG funding fall to £20m, if the plans are approved.
The proposals in the consultation threaten to make studying creative arts the preserve of a small group of elite students who can study away from home. This is completely contrary to the government’s levelling up agenda
– Vanessa Wilson, University Alliance
In a statement released today, following its submission to the OfS consultation, the Russell Group said the plan to increase government funding for STEM subjects was “a positive step”, especially as the subjects had “been underfunded for many years”.
“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,” the organisation continued.
“Even with these increases, courses across the board are still facing deficits on a per student, per year basis and with student numbers expected to grow again this year, 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.”
University Alliance chief executive Vanessa Wilson said the cuts were “a strategic misstep”. The government skills white paper identified “persistent skills shortages within the creative and related sectors”, making cuts to these subjects “counter-productive”, she said.
Wilson continued: “We are also deeply concerned that proposals could see funding diverted through the small and specialist institutions, resulting in provision being heavily concentrated at specialist institutions predominantly in London and in the south-east, and at institutions which typically attract students from more advantaged socio-economic backgrounds.
“The proposals in the consultation threaten to make studying creative arts the preserve of a small group of elite students who can study away from home. This is completely contrary to the government’s levelling up agenda.”
London Higher, which represents 40 London institutions, earlier this year said the decision to cut London weighting from the OfS Strategic Priorities Grants would create a £64-million shortfall in the capital. The organisation’s chief said Williamson would “level down London, not level up the regions”.