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University Funding

Volume 503: debated on Thursday 14 January 2010

14. What his policy is on the future level of funding of universities; and if he will make a statement. (310590)

The Government have presided over huge investment in higher education. Spending has risen by some 25 per cent. since 1997, which has significantly increased income and variable fees. Next year, my Department will allocate some £13 billion to higher education, taking into account spend on institutions and students.

Universities face total budget cuts of £2.5 billion, and the Business Secretary has said that he will slash funding next year by £535 million. How will those savage cuts affect the quality of teaching and research? In addition—

Order. I think that one question will do. I am extraordinarily grateful, but we need to make progress.

I think that “savage cuts” were the 38 per cent. fall in the unit of resource between 1991 and 1997, which left universities in this country on their knees. What the Government proposed in the grant letter to universities just before Christmas was in fact a saving of 1 per cent.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming today’s launch of the Centre for Low Carbon Futures at the universities of York, Sheffield, Leeds and Hull? Will he look at the £49 million of Research Councils UK money that those universities have received in the past three years for work in this field, and then write to me to let me know what sort of support the research councils, the Technology Strategy Board and the European Commission could give the centre over the next five years or so?

I am very happy to confirm that I will do that. My colleague the Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber will be there. This is a fantastic example of collaboration that cuts to the heart of the future of our economy. I congratulate everyone in the region who is involved, and I undertake to come back to my hon. Friend on what further we can do to support it.

A number of us were present with principals and vice-chancellors when the Minister spoke to the all-party university group. He spoke about the need for universities to search for cheaper models in the current financial constraints. One principal described that as a potential assault on quality. Will the Minister be mindful of the distinct Scottish ancient universities component, with the four-year honours degree and the three-year ordinary masters degree, in relation to whatever financial constraints are now going to be upon that sector?

I recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s particular expertise as rector of Glasgow university—a very good university—and all that he does to champion higher education. When I spoke to the vice- chancellors, I think I was referring to the excellent progress that we have made on, for example, foundation degrees as a route into higher education and on part-time higher education courses, which have been mentioned already. We must continue to make progress in this area, especially against a backdrop of tighter fiscal spending.