Penniless UK wants free research excellence

Nieuws | de redactie
5 januari 2012 | What to do if your universities do not excel as much as you like but you think you do not have a penny to spend? UK Prime Minister David Cameron found the answer: fostering science campuses to be built by alliances of universities and private enterprises.

University budgets in the UK have been stripped of aconsiderable amount of funds ever since David Cameron’s governmenttook charge in 2010. £200m had to be cut in the higher educationsector. This also affected students as the bar for tuition fees wastripled from £3.000 to a total of £9.000(€10,300).

For universities, spending on research does not come that easyin such an environment. Numbers from the university lobby group UCU show that the share of publicfinancing of higher education is currently around 31% and thereforethe lowest in over 80 years. The burden to finance universityactivities was gradually shifted from the government towardsstudents as the graph below illustrates.

UK government spending on public HE by HEFCE

red line -share of government funding in university budget

blue line– share of tuition fee funding in university budget

source: HEFCE/UCU

Nevertheless, the British government would like to show itsenthusiasm for Oxbridge and co. That is why it now announced a newera of elite science campuses to be set up all over the country incooperation between universities and private enterprises. Thecatch: “there will be no additional Government funding”.

Press statement by UK government

Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts set out anambition to make Britain the best place in the world to doscience.

In a speech at Policy Exchange, Universities and ScienceMinister David Willetts argued that our greatest national assets -our universities, our science facilities and researchers – are thebest single hope for making our way in the high-tech world of thefuture, creating jobs and opportunities and boosting high techeconomic growth.

He said that “If properly nurtured they can ensure that Britainwill be up there as a leading location for research in the physicaland life sciences and beyond. Britain can be the preferred locationfor companies’ R&D. We can have world-class industries usingcutting-edge technologies. We can have a prosperous future with arole in the world.”

The plan

The UK already has some of the world’s best universities andmost productive research communities but to help Britain become thebest place in the world for science and research David Willettsannounced:

  • An invitation for proposals for a new type of university with afocus on science and technology and on postgraduates. There will beno additional Government funding.
  • The creation of a new Catapult centre in satelliteapplications, providing businesses with access to orbit testfacilities, to develop and demonstrate new technologies.
  • Setting up Leadership Councils in E-Infrastructure and inSynthetic Biology bringing together key players to drive forwardprivate investment and innovation.
  • An ambition for universities funding from external sources togrow by 10% over the next three years.
  • An aim to get more universities into the top 100 in theworld.

Ambitions for a high-tech strategy

“Globalisation is still at its early stages when it comes toHigher Education. The next round of new institutions may well linkexisting British universities with international partners. Thesurge in international investment in science and technology wouldmake this a key part of the mission of a new foundation. It mightbe that today’s institutions propose a new campus or a newinternational partnership. Or it might be new providers wanting toenter with different models. Today I can announce therefore thatthe Coalition is inviting proposals for a new type of universitywith a focus on science and technology and on postgraduates. Localeconomic partnerships, universities, businesses and internationalpartners can come together to put forward proposals for newinstitutions.

“There will be no additional Government funding. This time wewill be looking to private finance and perhaps sponsorship fromsome of the businesses that are keen to recruit more Britishgraduates. For example, we will not be diverting funding fromsupport for undergraduate students. It is an opportunity to seizethe new freedoms which we proposed in our White Paper last year. Wealready have a lot of interest and we want to move this to the nextlevel. As proposals are developed we will be able to identify anyspecific obstacles that need to be removed including by legislationwhere necessary. A major city might wish to offer a site as MayorBloomberg has just done so successfully with his competition for anew graduate school in New York. We will be discussing with theinterested organisations how best to carry this initiative forward.I am confident that with ingenuity we can grow our research baseand our universities even when times are tough.”

 “The critics of our economic policies focus on argumentsabout a short-term stimulus but what really matters is long termgrowth. That is what our high tech enterprise strategy is allabout. Times like this have persuaded many of us that it isnecessary to back the technologies of the future so that we canrebalance our economy. Every Government tries to do it. The onlyquestion is whether you recognise it and do it properly or whetheryou just let it happen as the aggregate of the host of decisionsyou have to take anyway. This Coalition, faced with the crucialchallenge of sustaining growth after the deepest recession sincethe War, has a strategy for high tech enterprise. We can be proudof it because it is coherent, serious and rests on a commitment tothe future of our country and its economic base.”

What happened so far

Despite enormous pressure on public spending, the £4.6bn perannum funding for science and research programmes has beenprotected in cash terms and ring fenced against future pressuresduring the four years of the spending review period. We announcedalmost £610 million of additional capital investment in science in2011; The UK is a world leading research base. UK scientists havebeen awarded over 70 Nobel Prizes for their scientificachievements. Four of the world’s top ten universities forclinical, pre-clinical and health subjects are in the UK: Oxford(ranked 1), Imperial College (ranked 3), Cambridge (ranked 4) andUniversity College London (ranked 7) (Times Higher Education WorldUniversity Rankings 2011/2012).

The UK produces the highest number of science, mathematics andcomputing graduates annually in the EU. The UK is the leadingcountry in the G8 for research productivity. It produces morepublications and citations per researcher and per pound of publicfunding than any of its major competitors The UK is responsible for8 per cent of world publications and has a global share of the mostcited papers of 14 per cent. A copy of the Foresight Technology andInnovation Futures report can be found here.

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