Britain falls behind Poland and Slovakia in university tables
The UK has lost its edge as a world leader in providing higher education, one of the most authoritative international studies has revealed.
It has plummeted from fourth place to 15th in less than a decade in the percentage of graduates it produces – being overtaken by countries such as Poland and Portugal in the process.
The study's findings prompted dire warnings from lecturers and vice-chancellors' representatives, who said the UK faced relegation from the top league from which it would struggle to recover. The report, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), comes just before a major government review of university finance by the former BP boss Lord Browne and cuts in higher education funding of up to 35 per cent.
The review is said to be moving towards introducing more of a university marketplace through higher fees for students – which would mean lifting the current cap of £3,225 to at least £7,000. Research evidence shows that the majority of students – about two-thirds – would be deterred from going to university if fees reached that level.
Andreas Schleicher, of the OECD's indicators and analysis division, said: "Fewer people with qualifications will mean a less successful economy. Cutting education is going to cut the tax returns of the future. For many years the UK was very much at the forefront [of higher education provision]. But now you do not see that competitive advantage."
The report revealed that the UK's nosedive was not a result of it producing fewer graduates – rather that other countries had expanded their higher education provision at a faster rate. Figures showed the UK was investing less of its Gross Domestic Product in higher education – 1.3 per cent – than the OECD average of 1.5 per cent.
Reaction to the report emphasised the dire financial straits in which universities could soon find themselves. Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, which represents 20 of the country's leading research institutions including Oxford and Cambridge, said: "While our universities are bracing themselves for a period of austerity and uncertainty, other nations are rightly pumping billions of dollars into their institutions.
"If our universities are hit again in the comprehensive spending review by another wave of cuts, we could well be relegated to a lower division of higher education quality from which we would struggle ever to recover."
A survey carried out by the National Union of Students (NUS) and HSBC revealed that 70 per cent of students felt that fees of up to £7,000 a year would put them off going to university. Aaron Porter, president of the NUS, said: "Student finances are already at breaking point and this is clear evidence of the need to do away with the damaging and unpopular fees system."
However, the feeling within the Browne review is that universities would introduce differential fees rather than immediately charging the maximum amount available to them. It has all but rejected the idea of a graduate tax. Its findings could well fuel a political split between the coalition partners, as the Liberal Democrats opposed any fees increases during their general election campaign.
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...
£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...
£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...