Chancellor George Osborne announced on Wednesday that spending on universities will be cut by £2.9bn within three years. The cuts affect subsidies for teaching budgets, which will be reduced from £7.1bn to £4.2bn by 2015, a cut of around 40%.
Under the spending review, future subsidies will be focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This has led to fears that many arts and humanities courses may close or be dropped by institutions as the cuts take effect. Universities with an arts or humanities focus may have to raise fees disproportionately or face complete closure.
The Chancellor called universities “jewels in our economic crown” as he announced the cuts, leading to criticism from campaigners. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union stated that:
“It is hard to see the rationale behind slashing college and university budgets when they generate massive economic growth for the country and when the alternative is more people on the dole and the state losing out on millions in tax revenues. It’s no good the Chancellor describing universities as the jewel in our economic crown and then following those warm words up with massive cuts.”
The cuts come in the aftermath of the Browne Review recommending a removal of the cap on fees, increasing the likelihood of the plans being adopted. With budgets reduced, universities would be forced to raise fees in order to survive. Osborne stated that better off graduates would “pay more” to reduce the burden on the taxpayer, but did not give further details.
The University of Southampton have stated that the decision on raising fees would have to be considered in the light of the spending review. After the Browne Review was released, they stated that, “Significant reductions in public funds for higher education have been predicted and Browne’s proposals represent a viable and fair way to secure vital future investment in universities.”
Research budgets will not be affected by the cuts. The University of Southampton already follows a strategy of prioritising research based degrees, which led to the decision to phase out Sports Studies degrees in April this year. Many more institutions may be forced to take this approach in future years.
Wednesday’s spending review has seen total cuts of £81 billion, spread across most government departments. An estimated 500,000 public sector jobs could be lost as a result by 2015. While the UK is yet to see anything like the protests currently underway in France, Osborne’s plans have sparked demonstrations up and down the country. In Southampton, demonstrators congregrated outside Bargate at 5 o’clock on Wednesday. On Saturday 23rd October a march has been called in central London, for more details click here.