What a difference a year makes

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

It's the time of year that Hefce gets to hear about money (and other things) from government.  The grant letter arrived on Monday, and was not good news.  Here it is:

Dear Tim,


We are writing with details of the allocations we will make to the Funding Council for 2014-15 under section 68 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 and the priorities we wish to set the Council for that year.

The progressive implementation of our higher education reforms has put the system on a sound foundation. Combining HEFCE recurrent grant for teaching and estimated fee income from students subject to regulated fees, the resource for teaching rose from around £7.9bn in 2011-12 to almost £8.5bn in 2013-14. The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement provided further funding to enable an expansion of higher education places and to increase levels of resource for the teaching of high cost subjects such as science and engineering.

However, in the context of stretched public finances, it has been necessary to make reductions to the indicative recurrent teaching budget for 14-15. Further recurrent savings will be required in 15-16. It is for you to take decisions on how you allocate your budgets. But you should deliver savings in ways that protect as far as possible high cost subjects (including STEM), widening participation and small and specialist institutions.

Set against these reductions in recurrent teaching grant, we are increasing Government investment in teaching capital in both years. This includes a £200m investment in STEM capital to ensure cutting edge teaching facilities. Research capital spend is also increasing, and research resource spend is being maintained. This will enable you to deliver our agenda for research and economic growth.

Finally, we think the sector needs to make greater progress in delivering efficiencies. Students will rightly expect value for the fees they pay. We would like HEFCE to work with BIS and Treasury Ministers, the Research Councils and Vice Chancellors to build on the Diamond and Wakeham reviews to drive further and faster improvements. There are excellent examples of good practice to build on. We are very concerned about the substantial upward drift of salaries of some top management. We want to see leaders in the sector exercise much greater restraint as part of continuing to hold down increases in pay generally.

The annexes to this letter set out the funding figures for 2014-15 and indicative figures for 2015-16, the priorities we want you to address when allocating this funding and the conditions of grant.

The detail, of course, is in the 3 Annexes, but look as you will, you will find no reference to sustainable development – the first time for a long while – and its link to students.  It's all a far cry from 2013 when the letter contained this:

#28. We thank the Council for its activity which has contributed to the HE sector’s good progress on sustainable development.  In particular, by developing strategies and using the Revolving Green Fund to provide recoverable grants to help HEIs in England reduce emissions the Council has supported the sector to reduce carbon emissions.  We look forward to the development of a new sustainable development framework that should seek to build on the achievements of universities and colleges and the enthusiasm of students and continue to support institutions in their efforts to improve their sustainability.

Where will this leave the not-quite-yet completed Framework, I wonder.  Well, there is this section of Annex 1:

Teaching Quality and Enhancing the Student Experience

#7. Students clearly have the right to expect the highest quality learning opportunities.  We want the Council to develop mechanisms that protect and assure the quality of the academic student experience when we remove student number controls in 2015/16.

#8. The Council’s review of public information on higher education should consider whether there are better indicators, such as measures of student engagement, to provide information on what a high quality student experience looks like. We expect the Council to continue to identify improvements through pilot studies over the coming year as well as setting in train longer term improvements for the benefit of future cohorts. The work should include providing students with greater transparency on how institutions use income and how we can maximise the impact of the QAA’s guidance to institutions on publishing staff teaching qualifications, student evaluations, class size and student workload.

I wonder if the magenta text, above, provides a means of slipping sustainability in.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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