Blunkett pledges extra £1bn for higher education

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The Independent Online

The most significant increases in university funding for more than a decade were announced yesterday, with higher education budgets increasing by £1bn a year within three years.

The most significant increases in university funding for more than a decade were announced yesterday, with higher education budgets increasing by £1bn a year within three years.

Vice-chancellors and union leaders welcomed the increase, which represents a real-terms rise of nearly 10 per cent to fund increased student numbers, widen access and raise pay.

The increase means universities will be able to recruit an extra 45,000 students next year. Further expansion is also planned, part of efforts to ensure that half of all young people receive higher education. Most of the expansion will be in work-related courses, particularly the new two-year foundation degrees.

Overall funding will increase by £412m in 2001, £268m in 2002 and £298m in 2003, taking total higher education spending to nearly £6.4bn a year.

A significant part of the extra money will be earmarked for pay, a move that was welcomed by union leaders currently balloting for industrial action over a 3 per cent pay offer. Union leaders have long been pressing for action to reverse the relative decline in academic salaries which they say has contributed to a "brain drain" of top research talent.

Paul Mackney, general secretary of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, which represents staff in the "new" universities, said: "This is great news which will help address some of the chronic under-funding in the university system. Lecturers whose wages are 30 per cent lower than comparable professions will be expecting to see some of this extra cash in their pay packet."

David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said the Government had "turned the corner on funding".

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, said the extra money would be "a something-for-something reform to help institutions recruit and retain, and help modernise management and reward systems on top of any pay increase which universities negotiate".

He added: "In return, I expect institutions to have clear and satisfactory plans as to how they will use this substantial funding to enhance quality and modernise management of the sector."

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