Autumn Statement: views from the sector

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The Autumn Statement has been met with a mixed response from the sector. Among the warm welcomes, there appear to be some concerns about whether the plan will be sustainable in the long term. Here is some of the feedback:

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK: “It is good news that the government is committed to expanding student numbers. More graduates is good for the economy, developing a strong society and improving the lives of individuals. We will need to understand how this is sustainable in the long-term, given that this policy is being funded in coming years by the asset sales. We also need clearer information on future cuts to the BIS budget.”

Sally Hunt, General Secretary, UCU: “Allowing 60,000 potential undergraduates access to our public universities would be a great thing, if it could be done on a sensible, sustainable basis. George Osborne’s proposal to finance the costs – an estimated £720m a year by 2018-19 – by selling off the old student loan book seems a typically risky and short-termist gamble with public money. If recent reports have taught us anything, it’s that allowing for-profit higher education companies unrestricted access to public subsidies is a policy disaster in the making”.

Professor Michael Gunn, Chair of Million+: “I welcome the Chancellor’s recognition of the importance and value of higher education to individuals and the Government’s commitment to mass higher education through the funding of additional student numbers. Universities and students will now want to know that this expansion is being funded on a sustainable long-term basis and that the means of paying for it really do add-up.”

Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group: “We have always said that quality higher education should be prioritised over quantity, especially in times of limited funding. We are therefore concerned that the Government has chosen to put additional taxpayers’ money into growing student numbers so substantially.”

Libby Hackett, Chief Executive of University Alliance: “The announcement of additional student places is excellent news for the students, universities and the UK. This shows that the Government are future focussed and fully recognise the role that graduates and universities play in driving the UK economy towards a more prosperous future.”

Martin McQuillan, Dean of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston University: “We can expect numbers at private colleges, funded by the public loan book, to explode in such a scenario, raising questions about the quality, relevance and rates of repayments. Willetts can claim this as a great investment in higher education, aiming at participation rates that even Tony Blair could not achieve. But this is surely the wrong way to fund the educational infrastructure of a knowledge economy. Universities should not accept this gift horse without conducting a full dental examination.”

With thanks to Dan Wake in the BUFDG weekly digest.