Page last updated at 14:24 GMT, Monday, 1 February 2010

Thousands 'to miss out on university degree'

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

students in university lecture theatre
Individual figures for universities will not come until March

Hundreds of thousands of would-be students will be denied a university place because of spending cuts, says higher education body Universities UK.

Universities' funding body Hefce will later outline how spending on teaching, research and capital will be allocated in England in the next academic year.

For 2010-11, cuts of £135m have been added to "efficiency savings" of £180m - with a further £600m to follow.

Higher Education Minister David Lammy said the fears were "scaremongering".

Professor Steve Smith, president of vice-chancellors' group Universities UK, said the cuts would impact on the quality of teaching, as managers prepared to cut teaching budgets for the first time since Labour came to power.

He added that the cuts would increase competition for places.

Finland 1.6%
Sweden 1.4%
France 1.1%
United States 1%
Germany 0.9%
UK 0.9%
Poland 0.9%
Spain 0.9%
Italy 0.7%
Japan 0.5%
Source: OECD, public spending on higher education as percentage of GDP. Most recent figures 2006. (UK combined figure for England, Scotland, Wales and N.Ireland)

Mr Smith, vice chancellor of Exeter University, said: "Last year about 160,000 students who applied didn't end up going to university.

"This year, we already know that there are about another 75,000 applying for university."

This means that more than 200,000 could miss out, he said.

He added: "So the number of students who go to university will be less than the number that actually want to go and thus there will be a lot of students this year who do not get a place at university."

Although Universities UK represents higher education bodies across the UK, these funding arrangements relate to England.


Last month, leaders of the top universities said the programme of cuts could cause a "meltdown" in their sector.

The Russell Group of leading research universities warned that a succession of cuts could lead to universities and courses closing and much higher student ratios, damaging "gold standard" universities beyond repair.

This is wasting talent needed for an efficient and successful economy and it's extremely short-sighted.
Andy, Camberley

Higher Education Minister for England, Mr Lammy, said the savings were relatively small and that he was confident that Hefce could achieve these in a way that "minimises the impact on teaching".

He said: "Investment in higher education has gone up by 25% since 1997. Next year there will be more students at university than every before in our history."

He said that university entrance had always been a competitive business and added that the ratio of lecturers to students was higher today than it was five years ago.

The funding council is giving more detail than it normally would because of the unexpected cuts announced before Christmas.

A Hefce spokesman said it would be giving the detail of high-level decisions it had made on how to allocate funding to universities.

International comparisons

"The main purpose of this announcement is for the sector to be able to plan," he said.

Wes Streeting of the National Union of Students and Anastasia de Waal from think tank Civitas debate a possible reduction in degrees

"We are issuing something that has a lot more detail this year, because of the current financial situation, because of the extra pressures."

It will be sent out urgently to vice-chancellors by e-mail to enable them to redraw their budgets.

However, the announcement will not be broken down by university or course subject. Universities will get those figures in March.

The savings of nearly £315m are expected in 2010-2011 from universities' £7.3bn teaching budgets set out in the last comprehensive spending review.

However, overall spending on higher education will increase compared to last year.

Further savings of £600m across the higher education, science and research budgets are required over 2011-2013.

General secretary of the University and College Union Sally Hunt said the higher education system was already creaking under the pressure of government efficiency savings and the planned cuts would be a devastating blow.

"Other leading economies are investing money in universities in order to help economic growth and widen participation, yet our government seems intent on doing the opposite."

Liberal Democrat universities spokesman Stephen Williams said the government's target to get half of young people into university was proving to be "empty rhetoric".

"Targeting universities for cuts in this way is setting us up to see record numbers of bright young people turned away this summer."

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