Universities will face severe financial consequences if a tuition fee cut is given the green light, peers have warned.
Reduced tuition fees, the loss of EU grants and post-Brexit visa difficulties for academics could threaten university research in the UK, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee says.
But the cross-party group of peers claims any loss in tuition-fee income, as recommended in the Augur review, would force universities to reduce the resources needed for vital research.
Lord Patel, the committee’s chair, warned that the consequences for the country “will be devastating” if there is inadequate funding for scientific research as the UK risks falling behind.
He added that the recent review of post-18 education and funding “completely missed the mark” by not considering research funding while recommending a cut in tuition fees.
Lord Patel said: “It has made recommendations which, if implemented, could prove harmful to the already challenging ecosystem of university funding.”
Any loss in fees should be covered by increasing the teaching grant to universities to ensure the institutions are no worse off than they are now, the report says.
The warning follows reports last year that a number of universities were on the verge of bankruptcy.
Lord Patel added: “A university’s core operational activities of teaching and research are both loss-making activities already, and any shortfall in funding would become unmanageable.
“The immediate casualties will likely be widening-participation programmes, student experience, infrastructure maintenance and repair, and the hands-on elements of courses.”
The committee is calling on ministers to ensure the level of funding the UK currently receives from the EU for research is matched in full once the UK has left the EU.
They add that the government must ensure post-Brexit immigration laws do not hinder the ability of UK universities to recruit and retain the scientific staff they require.
David Thompson, senior policy analyst at the Russell Group, a group of the most prestigious universities in the UK, said: “The threat posed to UK science, research and industry by Theresa May’s review has been wholly under-estimated, but today’s report makes it clear that cutting tuition fees without fully making up the funding shortfall would be a serious mistake from any government.”
A Government spokesperson said: “As part of our ongoing review of Post-18 Education and Funding we will be responding to Philip Augar’s recommendations in due course.
“We have committed an additional £7bn for Research and Development by 2022, the largest increase since records began.”
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