University funding cuts could cost 300,000 student places

Up to 300,000 students could miss out on university places and the quality of teaching could decline after more than £449m was shaved off England’s higher education budgets yesterday.

Teaching budgets will be reduced by £215m – a cut in real terms of 1.6% on 2009-10 levels, said the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Research funding has been frozen, while the buildings budget was cut by 15%.

The amount universities receive for encouraging those from the poorest backgrounds to apply has also gone down by 0.75% to £144m.

Over the next three years, total cuts will amount to £950m.

But an extra £10m will go into the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths, which the government is keen to promote.

The cuts come as universities face unprecedented demand for places – with some institutions reporting increases in applications of more than 20%.

Steve Smith, president of vice-chancellors’ group Universities UK, warned more than 200,000 applicants could be left without a place this year.

But David Green, vice-chancellor of the University of Worcester, told the Guardian that up to 300,000 students could be rejected.

National Union of Students leader, Wes Streeting, said the cuts threatened “irreversible damage” to higher education.

He said: “In spite of protestations to the contrary, the cuts being imposed by the government are going to hit teaching, research and the number of places available at a time of record demand.

“Singling out universities for cuts of this kind seems to me to be an extraordinary act of self harm by the government.”

Universities are expected to receive their individual budgets next month.

But the higher education minister David Lammy told the BBC “there will be a minimal impact on teaching and students. No further savings were announced and the bulk of the savings will come from a reduction in capital spend”.

“These savings come against a background of record government investment in higher education, around 25% more than 1997.”

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