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UK unis call for sustainable funding model

University leaders last week called on the new British government to develop a sustainable funding model for UK higher education following mounting concerns about the sector’s reliance on international students’ fees. 

University leaders asked the government to recommit to spending 2.4% of GDP on research. Photo: Unsplash

Inflation has meant that the amount universities receive has fallen significantly in real terms

Speaking at Universities UK’s annual conference at the University of Leicester on Thursday, Steve West, president of the membership body, warned that universities are “already doing more with less”. 

The cap on domestic tuition fees is currently frozen and inflation has meant that the amount universities receive has fallen significantly in real terms. 

“By 2024/25 the £9,250 annual fee will only be worth £6,600 in 2012–13 prices,” West told attendees at the event

“We are open to exploring a range of possibilities and working with governments, students and staff to find ways of funding higher education. This national conversation should take place in parallel with the government’s plans to build a more flexible lifelong learning system.”

Earlier this year, a parliamentary report warned that universities are over-reliant on international students, with non-domestic fees currently subsidising teaching and research. 

Both West and Vivienne Stern, newly-appointed CEO of Universities UK, also reiterated the importance of research funding as negotiations to formalise the UK’s association with Horizon Europe continue. 

“The expected Spending Review presents a real risk, especially to the research budget”

In July, the government set out contingency plans to ensure funding for research in the event that the UK does not associate with Horizon, but it has not yet provided an exact budget or timeline. 

West called on the government to “recommit to meeting the target of spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development and continuing to do all it can to secure association to Horizon Europe.”

Stern told attendees, “The Treasury is worried about a lot of things, I guess, but it’s not particularly worried about you. So the expected Spending Review presents a real risk, especially to the research budget set aside to fund Horizon alternatives.”

The conference took place prior to the announcement of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday evening. Parliamentary activity in the UK is currently suspended until September 21 for a period of national mourning. 

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