Universities face ‘biggest cuts since Great Depression’
Universities could axe courses, increase class sizes and recruit more foreign students after being told to prepare for the biggest budget cuts since the Great Depression.
By Graeme Paton
Vice-chancellors have been warned that funding may be slashed by 35 per cent over the next five years, it has emerged.
The warning – delivered in a series of meetings between Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, and university bosses – would represent the biggest cut in resources since the 1930s, it is claimed.
It would be equivalent to the current £5,441 annual Government subsidy for each student being reduced to just £3,537.
Universities said the reduction would have devastating consequences for higher education in England – jeapordising the sector’s world class status.
Many universities will seek to make savings by axing loss-making courses, closing libraries, cramming more students into lectures and failing to repair crumbling buildings.
It is also likely to lead to an increase in the number of foreign students who can be charged much higher fees than British undergraduates.
The cuts will form part of a reduction in Government funding across the public sector as the Coalition seeks to save money to service the national debt.
George Osborne, the Chancellor, will announce final allocations for Whitehall departments in the autumn and analysts have already warned that cuts could average 25 per cent.
But with health and international development budgets being largely protected, it is feared reductions could be even more severe elsewhere.
According to Times Higher Education magazine, Sir Gus has told vice-chancellors that universities should prepare for cuts of 35 per cent between 2011 and 2015.
Prof Gareth Williams, from the faculty of policy and society at London’s Institute of Education, said such a loss of funding would be the biggest single funding drop in 70 years.
“If the numbers quoted are realised, it would be far worse than anything universities have experienced since the 1930s. In terms of expenditure per student, it is far worse than anything in recent memory,” he said.
Lord Browne, the former head of BP, is leading a review of the current system of student tuition fees, grants and loans. His final report – due in October – could lead to a rise in the cost of going to university.
It is thought that if the existing £3,250-a-year cap on tuition fees is abolished altogether universities will be forced to dramatically increase fees to maintain standards.
Prof Roger Brown, from Liverpool Hope University, told Times Higher Education that Government cuts would lead to “increased student-to-staff ratios and greater pressure on physical resources”, such as libraries.
“You are charging students more – assuming fees will go up after the Browne review – and at the same time they are being taught in crumbling lecture theatres,” he said.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The Cabinet secretary’s advice to everyone in the public sector is that, until we find out exact budgets in the autumn spending review, it would be prudent to prepare for cuts at the higher end of that range.”