IET pleads against reductions in university funding

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has issued a last-minute plea for the government to reconsider huge reductions to university funding.

Expected cuts of around £4bn to the higher-education budget in tomorrow’s Comprehensive Spending Review could worsen the UK’s engineering skills gap, the industry body argues.

‘For a subject [such as] engineering, which is expensive to deliver but vital to the UK’s economic future, a high proportion of the total funding should be provided by the government,’ the body said in a statement.

‘Following Lord Browne’s recommendation to lift the cap on university fees, the skills gap could easily widen even further as raising tuition fees will be the only way to make up for lost state funding.’ 

Recent reports suggest that the government intends to cut university funding by as much as 80 per cent while lifting the cap on tuition fees. But universities are still expected to suffer a shortfall in money for teaching.

The IET claims that university engineering departments are already lacking funding needed to meet course costs, with shortfalls as high as 15 per cent in some instances.  

The Independent Review of Higher Education Funding, led by former BP chairman Lord Browne, last week concluded that students should pay more towards the cost of their education.

But it also noted the ‘critical role’ for public funding of universities, particularly for courses such as engineering, science and medicine that benefit society and the economy.

‘The costs of these courses are high and if students were asked to meet all of the costs there is a risk that they would choose to study cheaper courses instead,’ the report said.

‘There will remain a vital role for public investment to support priority courses and the wider benefits they create.’

The IET said that the proportion of course costs met by the government should be based on and relative to the extent of ‘public benefit’.

‘It is important for the future of the economy to make sure that engineering benefits, rather than suffers, from the changes to the university funding system,’ said Hugo Donaldson, principal policy advisor at the IET.  

‘If the UK is to meet the skills needs of the engineering sector, universities must be given the funding they need to offer a high-quality education.

‘Given the need to increase the number of students applying for engineering courses, there are strong arguments for the government meeting a high proportion of the shortfall in funding rather than students.’

The IET’s recent National Skills Survey suggested that only 47 per cent of engineering companies believe the UK has the skills base to re-balance the sector or create a low-carbon economy.