New figures released last Thursday revealed Sussex to be among the biggest losers in the latest round of government funding. The University will lose £1.15m pounds in research funding this year, the ninth biggest cut in England. The cuts in research funding, however, are partly offset by the 2% rise in teaching funding which is up £700,000.
The cut in research funding stems from Sussex’s poor performance in the last Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), which assesses the quality of research in universities and colleges in the UK. The RAE is based broadly upon two criteria, the quality of research that is undertaken and the number of staff who are entered by a University into the exercise. The number of staff applications to the 2008 RAE from Sussex was around the same as the previous one in 2001 whereas the number of applications across the Higher Education sector was up about 12% on average. Similarly whilst there were some areas in which the University performed very strongly in research quality, overall the University fell slightly behind its competitors. Therefore Sussex’s research funding was cut significantly.
In a statement on the day of the results Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing sought to reassure students and staff that the University was financially sound. He said, “This is a tough settlement, but one that we had been planning for. All institutions will need to prepare themselves for significant constraints in funding in the future.” He also stressed that the University was looking for other sources to fund this revenue gap saying, “Through strategic development we are looking to place ourselves in a stronger position where we are less reliant on Funding Council allocations.”
‘Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing sought to reassure students and staff that the University was financially sound. He said, “This is a tough settlement, but one that we had been planning for.”‘
It appears that this gap will be met primarily through the increased numbers of international students and increased external income. A University statement released said, “We have been clear that the strategic answer to an ongoing reduction in government funding is growth from earned income, i.e. from sources other than government grant. This means bringing in more research income and attracting more students who are not subject to quotas or other controls. We have to place ourselves in a position where we can take control of our own future.”
Sussex’s government funding changes
Despite the University’s assurances the results will leave students worrying about their finances. When one student was informed about the cuts he said “In the long run, this will encourage the University to make Sussex more expensive to make up for the deficit. This will mean students from less privileged backgrounds will have even less opportunity to come to Sussex.” Similarly with other financial problems that face the University staff may face redundancies if the situation does not improve.
The University also appears to be increasingly reliant upon increasing numbers of international students, who pay higher fees as they are not regulated by the government. The demographics of British birth rates mean that over the next 5 or 6 years the number of young people reaching the age of 18 will decrease significantly, increasing this reliance on international revenue.
Adam Farrell, the student Union’s Education Officer, condemned the current system of funding through the RAE. He said “Any funding system which is primarily focused around enhancing and rewarding imbalances in the quality of teaching and research in Universities disadvantages those students whose Universities are not so highly valued through the RAE, league tables or the Vice-Chancellors that run HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England). Through no fault of their own, students obtain a degree that is seen more of a reflection of the expertise and research credentials of those that taught them than as an individual accomplishment”
‘The University also appears to be increasingly reliant upon increasing numbers of international students, who pay higher fees.’
A total of 53 universities face cuts after being allocated below-inflation increases in funding for research and teaching for next year. A number of newer universities have improved their funding significantly and funding has been spread widely across Higher Education as a number of Universities improved significantly on their 2001 RAE results. The worst losers are Imperial College London which now face a cut of £4.95m in their budget whilst the biggest winners were the University of Nottingham which improved their research grant by £9.95m.