Page last updated at 11:25 GMT, Monday, 24 August 2009 12:25 UK

Universities prepare for cutbacks

Graduation day
Universities have been warned about funding reductions in 2010/11.

Some universities in Wales may have to cut courses in future years due to assembly government cutbacks, a funding body has warned.

The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) has told universities to expect a steeper reduction in funding next year.

The Welsh Assembly Government said the budget for 2010/11 was not yet decided.

But it said the HEFCW was "acting prudently" in discussing potential funding scenarios.

One university pro vice-chancellor warned that less popular courses may have to be cut and, further in the future, universities themselves could even close.

Last month, universities in England admitted considering funding cuts of up to 20% in a worst case scenario.

HEFCW said in a statement: "As the Welsh Assembly Government budget for the 2010-11 financial year will not be published until later this year, and therefore we have no basis on which to make any adjustments, we have not made any anticipatory adjustments to institutions' 2009/10 academic year funding.

In the current economic circumstances it is vitally important that public funding is maximised to full benefit...
Welsh Assembly Government

"However, we have informed institutions that this means that they will receive a steeper reduction in 2010/11 funding.

"HE [higher education] institutions are already planning for a reduction, and we have asked them to take any necessary action to smooth the impact of subsequent funding reductions such as being prudent in their planning assumptions."

There have been concerns about funding in the higher education sector for a number of years.

For the new academic year starting next month, the total budget for all universities in Wales is down from the previous year.

Many universities are also concerned that there are fewer foreign students coming to study in the UK, meaning a fall in income.

Prof Teresa Rees, pro vice-chancellor at Cardiff University, said she was concerned about what could happen to universities in the future.

"It possibly means a reduction in choice for students. Some of the less subscribed courses may have to go," she said.

"I think it's the longer term that really concerns me more than the immediate belt tightening because it means the undermining of the infrastructure of the universities.

'Vital to invest'

"Some of them are not as well off as others in Wales and it may indeed mean that some of them may have to close. It's very stark news."

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesperson said: "The budget allocation for 2010/11 has not yet been decided.

"Nevertheless, HEFCW and the higher education institutions are acting prudently in considering potential funding scenarios.

"It is also important that higher education providers exploit the benefits of collaboration and part time provision to open up opportunities for learners.

"In the current economic circumstances it is vitally important that public funding is maximised to full benefit and is prioritised to meet national economic and social needs."

The statement added that additional funds were being released into higher education because of the abolition of the tuition fee grant.

Welsh Conservative education spokesman Paul Davies AM said any cuts to university-funding risked long-term damage to the Welsh economy.

"During an economic recession it's vital the assembly government continues to invest in education," he said.

'Easy target'

Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesperson Jenny Randerson AM said the cuts were not justified with Welsh students already facing costs for top-up fees.

"Universities should be a key priority, not just within the education department, but also for the economy," she said.

Brian Morgan, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Wales Institute Cardiff, said any cuts in funding for universities could be very damaging in the long-term.

"Universities create a more flexible and skilled workforce which is what you need for the 21st Century," he said.

"You need to cut back because there has been so much waste, and there are other areas that you could cut back such as universal benefits that could be better targeted."

Peter Jones, national chair of University and College Union Wales, said universities and colleges were always an "easy target" for cuts during a recession.

"To help Wales get out of the economic recession, to help Wales become a proper learning country, we need to be investing in education, investing in colleges, schools and universities and not cutting," he said.

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