Treasury and education ministers have been warned against rushing through higher education cuts and funding reforms that could seriously damage regional economies and remove study opportunities for thousands of people.
The warning comes today in an open letter to ministers from GuildHE, the representative body for 32 universities, university colleges and other small and specialist higher education institutions in England and Wales.
The letter to Chancellor George Osborne, Business Secretary Vince Cable, higher education and science minister David Willetts, and chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, warns that the survival of many higher education institutions and courses could be at risk unless the proposed changes are phased in carefully over several years.
Cuts announced in today’s spending review combined with recommendations from Lord Browne’s higher education review for the cap to be lifted on university tuition fees could bring about crippling instability in the higher education sector if introduced too quickly, the letter says.
Under these circumstances, institutions “may find the transitional period more life threatening than the eventual market-orientated system that Browne and ministers desire”.
GuildHE warns that such an outcome “could dangerously weaken the ability of the sector to drive economic growth in the short, medium and longer term”.
The letter adds: “As ministers you have all described higher education as essential to the nation’s hopes of economic recovery and growth in the future. This is a part of public policy that should not be left to chance. Yes, higher education as a sector should play its part in reducing the deficit, but it must also play its fundamental part in spearheading the recovery. Compromising its ability to do so could be a costly and ill advised mistake.”
GuildHE also suggests it is possible that under the new regime many universities will end up charging very similar fees.
And it warns ministers against adopting a “one dimensional view” of higher education based on the traditional model of full-time study, which fails to take into account the great importance of locally available courses both to prospective students and employers.
“For part-time students and employers local provision is vital. Though this is the only real choice that many students have, the system has never admitted it openly,” it says.
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Notes to editors
GuildHE is a recognised higher education representative body. Its 32 members are among the most dynamic and fastest-growing institutions in the sector. For a list of GuildHE institutions, please visit: https://www.guildhe.ac.uk/en/members-list/index.cfm