Letter: Government's low price for higher education

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your call for greater public investment in Britain's higher education is welcome. But the country's universities are not offered a subsidy to teach students, as your leading article states (29 December). They are paid a price (set by the Government) for the educational service provided - and it is widely felt within universities that the sum paid per science student is insufficient to sustain the high quality of undergraduate degrees.

That price is split into two parts: a fee, which is paid by the student's local authority, and a capitation sum, which is part of each university's block grant for teaching purposes. Both parts are being cut for the academic year 1994-95. The capitation sum will be reduced by an average of 4 per cent (called an 'efficiency gain' by the Government). The fee has been cut by one-third, to discourage recruitment of more science students.

That declining income per student has to cover staff costs, among other things. Salary levels have fallen substantially in relative terms in recent years, in large part due to government interference in the 'free collective bargaining' between universities and their employees' unions.

We look forward to your vigorous campaign for government to: (1) increase the price universities are paid for teaching students; and (2) allow academics to be paid the incomes they deserve (and have earned through unrewarded increases in productivity - of at least 40 per cent - over the past decade).

Yours faithfully

RON JOHNSTON

Vice-Chancellor

University of Essex

Colchester

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