In an era of European austerity, countries all over the continent increasingly contemplate shifting the higher education funding burden from public budgets to individual students. British Prime Minister, David Cameron, was one of the first to propagate this approach when he announced to cut £200 million (€226 million) in HE funding and new tuition fee hikes. The now failed Dutch government followed a similar approach by designing a student loan system to substitute existing grants.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) now
financed a report
called "Strengthening the Contribution of English Higher Education Institutions
to the Innovation System: Knowledge exchange and HEIF funding" measuring the impact
of HE innovation funding on the English economy. According to the authors, "a
crude estimation of the impact of the funding suggests that, for every £1 of HE
innovation funding invested, it returns £6 in gross additional knowledge
Employability without employers
The environment of English universities has changed dramatically
over the past two
years. Cameron cut funding to universities and advocated an economic recovery driven
by private-sector innovation. For students, this meant that tuition fees almost
tripled to £9.000 (€10.170).
The report argues that "the new student regime is set to have a
profound impact on the HE
sector in England, particularly placing an increased focus on employability, as
HEIs will be concerned to address the career and hence salary prospects of
students, to be able to pay over their loans. The difficulties of the present
employment market seem also to be placing a focus on support for student
enterprise, to increase employability but also employment prospects."
This greater focus on employability has led to a shift in
mindset among universities
as well. According to the report, it has become common practice that
internships and work experiences are guaranteed as part of the curriculum.
Whether this is a solution in the short-run remains doubtful. The authors point
out that given that the English economy is in recession, it is not clear
whether employers will be able to meet this increased demand. The question that
remains is whether focusing on employability is a feasible instrument at all
when the economy goes sour.