Universities in England are facing cuts of £4.2 billion by 2014-5, it was announced in last week’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), with teaching budgets expected to be hit hardest. George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, provided details of the review in a speech to the House of Commons on Wednesday 20 October.

Amongst the cuts to higher education, the review will lead to 490,000 jobs lost in the public sector. However, the chancellor has said that a new £150 million National Scholarship Fund will be set for those students from poorer financial backgrounds.

Universities' budget cut to just £4.2bn

He also confirmed that funding for subjects such as maths, technology, engineering and science  would continue. Higher education funding cuts of this magnitude would be nearly four times that which universities had been expecting from the former Labour government.

The atmosphere on the University of Sussex campus has been sombre in the build-up to the Spending Review, with many students expressing their worries regarding the cuts. The biggest concern is that universities will be forced to replace much of the lost funding by raising tuition fees, a fact supported by the Browne report which recommended that the government lift the cap and allow universities a choice in tuition fee charges. One second year humanities student said: “I’m worried English universities will end up charging some of the highest fees in the world, something which would lead to young people having a choice between graduating with incredibly high debts or not going to university at all.”

Another undergraduate student, who wished to remain unnamed, commented that: “we may see a return to an economically elitist educational system, with students from wealthier families being able to afford a better education than their relatively poorer counterparts.”

The 1994 Group of research-intensive universities said that the country’s economic recovery may be “put at risk by starving universities of investment.”

The National Union of Students (NUS) said that the cuts proposed in the Spending Review would lead to the effective privatisation of universities as well as restricted opportunities for college students. NUS President, Aaron Porter, said: “This is a devastating blow to higher and further education that puts the future of colleges and universities at risk and will have repercussions for the future prospects of students and learners. This is a spending review that looks an entire generation in the eye and says ‘you’re on your own’.

“It is clear that some of our worst fears have been confirmed with regards to the action that the coalition Government is taking with regards to cutting further and higher education funding sources and placing a larger burden on students and their families in what will be difficult times for us all.”

The University and College Union (UCU) issued a statement saying that “massive funding cuts to colleges and universities could lead to institutions being forced to close across the country.”

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary said: “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.”

A national demonstration organised by both the NUS and UCU against cuts to higher and further education will be on Wednesday 10 November in central London, with a large turnout of students expected. Cameron Tait, Students’ Union President here at the University of Sussex warned that: “it will only be in the coming weeks that we will fully understand the damage done in the Comprehensive Spending Review, but what is clear is that the 40 percent cut to Higher Education nationally will mean further problems for students both at the University of Sussex and across the country. We should also not forget how devastating these cuts will be to the 490,000 people whose jobs are now under threat.

“We call for students to march on London this November 10 to make their voices heard and show how short-sighted the government’s plans truly are.” There are still many details to be worked through, as the new fee measures require legislation to take effect and it will be some time before we find out exactly how they will affect universities.

The University of Sussex have said that they “will need to look in a calm and measured way at this new funding environment. There will be no knee-jerk responses, as what matters is that we get our development right for the long term, to sustain the excellence of teaching and learning and the quality of our research.”

Vice-Chancellor, Michael Farthing, vowed that the university would continue to make the “case to government for sustained investment in universities as a vital component of the engine of economic growth and individual opportunity.”

He also added that: “the headlines from the CSR, in consequence, point to a significant reduction in funding to universities directed through teaching grants from the funding council (HEFCE). “These changes mean a radical shift in the balance of funding for higher education, with the general taxpayer meeting less of the cost and the individual graduate in work considerably more.”

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