Clarke cash not enough, say universities

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The Independent Online

University vice-chancellors yesterday warned that Gordon Brown's Budget would not be enough to solve their funding problems.

Teachers' unions gave the package a cautious welcome but said that the settlement was not as generous as it might first appear.

Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, yesterday set out his three-year budget, confirming that an extra £8.5bn would be shared between nurseries, schools, colleges and universities between 2005 and 2008. He promised universities that funding per student would be maintained in real terms.

However, Universities UK (UUK), which represents vice-chancellors, argued that £8.8bn extra funding was needed for universities alone to repair their crumbling buildings and improve their spending per student. Diana Warwick, UUK's chief executive, said that universities would have to wait until July's spending review to find out how much of the extra funding would go to universities.

"The additional investment needs of the sector are significant," she said. "These have been clearly set out in our recent submission to the spending review, which totalled £8.8bn for England and Northern Ireland over the next spending review period.

"This overall investment is essential to meet the Government's objectives of widening participation, maintaining excellence and international competitiveness and putting the sector on a sound financial footing for the future."

In a resumed debate on Mr Brown's spending and taxation package, Mr Clarke confirmed that education spending in the UK would be 5.6 per cent of GDP in 2007-08, up from 5.4 per cent this year. Education spending in England will grow by an average of 4.4 per cent during the next three years.

However, John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said that this represented a significant slow-down. Increases of 6 per cent had been delivered under the 2002 spending review including 2005/06 - the first year also covered by this week's Budget. "The Government is very good at putting a positive gloss on the figures but this means that the increases for the 2006-07 and 2007-08 will actually be significantly lower than 4.4 per cent. This is obviously not such good news," he said.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said Mr Clarke's statements raised questions about the balance of teachers and classroom assistants to be recruited. The NUT was the only union not to sign up to a national agreement to cut teachers' workload because of its opposition to classroom assistants being allowed to give lessons.

Mr McAvoy said: "Mr Clarke fails to give any commitments on the balance between the numbers of teachers and support staff, or indeed the maintenance of the number of teaching posts."

Mr Clarke also defended as "necessary and right" the move to cut 1,460 jobs at the Education and Skills department, a reduction of nearly one third of staff. He said it would help boost frontline services and accused Tories of planning "massive real terms cuts" in non-school education-related budgets.