Letter: Funding lags behind university growth

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The Independent Online
Sir: The recent OECD publication Education at a Glance demonstrates two features about British universities which, taken together, are highly significant (report, 9 December). The first is that Britain ranks 13th out of 20 in the proportion of the relevant age group entering university; the second is that we rank sixth in the proportion of the age group graduating.

In Britain a very high proportion (90 per cent) of those entering university have graduated. We can claim that we have a very efficient and high-quality higher education system - one that involves a great deal of attention to the development of individual students.

Recent years have seen a massive expansion of higher education; the participation rate is now 30 per cent, double that of 10 years ago. This expansion has not been matched by increases in public funding; the productivity of universities has increased by more than 20 per cent in the last five years.

The effect of this reduction in funding per student has not yet become apparent in the educational achievement of those graduating. It has, however, created great problems in maintaining and enhancing our libraries and buildings. Moreover, the changing pattern of support for students has generated genuine financial hardship for many. These measures are diminishing the quality of experience for our students and will inevitably affect the number who graduate successfully. To maintain the high quality of university education will require substantial funding.

Any decision requiring graduates to make some contribution to the costs of their tuition must be a political one, but vice-chancellors have identified a number of criteria that any such scheme must satisfy. It must be related to ability to pay, either at the time of study or subsequently; enhance access to and widen participation in higher education, including the creation of a reliable system of financial support for students; be simple and inexpensive to administer; and create funds additional to those the Government provides.

Vice-chancellors have an overriding responsibility to ensure that universities continue to provide the very high quality of education that has been a hallmark of British universities. To achieve this, the funding must be adequate.

Yours faithfully,

KENNETH EDWARDS

Chairman, Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the UK

London, WC1

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