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Cuts will cost British universities their international reputations - Polly Curtis, The Guardian 21 novembre 2009

lundi 23 novembre 2009, par Jean-Pierre

Ce n’est peut-être pas l’évaluation qui va modifier les classements internationaux des universités, juste les coupes budgétaires…

Financial crisis beckons as public spending cuts loom and universities face intense competition from overseas.

Universities are facing a new funding crisis with looming public spending cuts and intense competition from overseas, according to the man employed by the government to allocate money to higher education in England.

Sir Alan Langlands, head of the university funding council and a former chief executive of the NHS, warned that the UK risks losing its international reputation for higher education as other countries pump cash into universities to try to train people out of the recession.

It comes after research by the lecturer’s union this week suggested that universities are already making widespread job cuts in anticipation of a decrease in public funding. In the last year 1,318 academics have been laid off and a further 5,097 are threatened, it found. Cardiff University has lost 50 jobs, City 65 and Salford 150 through voluntary and compulsory redundancies.

Langlands told a conference of university chairs convened by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) today : "It seems to me we’re in what could be a very difficult transition. We’ve had a period of real terms growth that may be seen in history as a bit of a golden age.

"This is happening at a time when there’s intense competition for overseas students… reduced spending [and] a time when there are significant cost pressures."

He said the review of student fees, launched by Lord Mandelson this month, would have to redress the balance between the different sources of funding for universities including the taxpayer, students, graduates and employers. Currently the bulk is paid for by the treasury, suggesting he believes that fees – or some form of contribution from students – will have to rise in the future.

But those reforms could not realistically start before 2012 meaning universities face up to three years of funding cuts first. He said the cuts could start as soon as the new year when Hefce receives its budget for 2010-11.

"There’s no doubt we will be experiencing these short-term reductions," he said.

"That strong position is now under challenge from intense competition from overseas. The UK and Spain are the only countries in Europe not investing in higher education.

"Right across Europe we are seeing a new wave of education provision taught in English and indeed in Scandinavia too."

He described how governments in Germany, Australia and the US had made universities central to their fiscal stimulus plans. President Obama has prioritised spending on higher education to help rebuild the economy out of the recession.

Langlands cited figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, which suggest that government spending is limited to levels not seen since the 1970s. In September, leaked Treasury documents which suggested each department is facing a cut of 9.3% between 2010 and 2014. If investment in schools and the NHS is ring-fenced other areas would be even worse affected.

Universities are also vulnerable because other sources of funding, including the NHS and teacher training budgets, are also under threat, Langlands said. Grants from the big medical charities have also been affected as many rely on large endowments that have suffered in the recession.

Some universities are already taking drastic measures to cut their costs. UCU claim 187 jobs are at risk at Leeds University as part of a round of major spending cuts. The vice-chancellor has announced that he wants to cut spending by £35m. Last year its total expenditure was £440m.

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