A topic hot on the lips of many students over the last year has been the near-tripling in tuition fees for the 2012 intake. Implemented by a government who, by and large, received university education for free added certain hypocrisy to the scenario.
There were those proponents of the fee rises, arguing that a more expensive higher education would counteract the inflation of the value of a degree. However, the scene in early September was rather different: many universities were down on applications and had to settle for lower calibre candidates. Even in August UCAS had warned of a 10% drop in applications from England alone.
The government’s Higher Education Funding Council for England recently compiled a report on the financial situations of higher education institutes. This detailed a state of financial stability for the majority of institutions; a state dependant on their numbers of recruited students.
In the next academic year, universities could see the income from overseas students increase by roughly a quarter, says the HEFCfE. This seems positive, although the tenuous position of many overseas students could affect this rise in capital, as detailed previously in this publication.
The chief executive of HEFCfE has argued that solvency is still both forecasted and achievable by most institutions in the long run, but universities and colleges “will need to deploy more of their own resources to maintain their estates”. Thus, cuts in government funding see universities looking inwards to stay afloat.
On the surface, Royal Holloway, University of London, may have been perceived to be achieving this ‘maintenance of estates’ through negative action: salary freezes, redundancies and department closures. Earlier this year, announcements of cuts to the Classics, Modern Languages and Lactogenics were seen as the college’s efforts to ‘trim the fat’.
Consequently, some of these cuts never fully came into fruition, leaving many wondering where in the college funding could be cut. It is, however, the students and staff of the science faculties which have demonstrated (and achieved) an alternative way to gain funding.
The college reported that £39 million pounds has been given in the form of a governmental grant for further research into vaccine alternatives. Opportunities such as these are fantastic: the research rating of the department (and by default, the university) increases, the overall league standing of the university increases and fears of under-subscription and financial turmoil are dissuaded from mind.
It is this independent resourcefulness which appears to be the future for departments and universities as wholes. Whilst not a direct move towards privatisation, the introduction of direct public and industrial interest does present a plethora of funding opportunities.
In the United Kingdom today, the budgets of various public sectors are malleable and constantly under review. The School of Biological Sciences has laid a precedent at Royal Holloway: funding is available elsewhere, so be on the lookout for it. The knock-on effect of research funding is undeniable, and it should not be overlooked with the increasing contention over educational status and standard in mind.