Archive for December 23, 2009

Another kick in the teeth…

Posted in Finance, Science Politics with tags , , on December 23, 2009 by telescoper

I shall  attempt to beat the weather tomorrow and fly up to the North-East for Christmas break. This blog will therefore be offline for a few days (if I succeed in getting airborne). I wish I had a bit of good news to post before the holiday, but I’m afraid there’s even more bad news. Yesterday, Lord Mandelson (yes,  another unelected member of the government) has written to the Chairman  of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) outlining their budget for 2010-11.

The letter confirms £180 million in efficiency savings from the 2009 Budget and an £83 million deduction following last year’s grant letter. On top of those there’s another cut of £135 million ““the higher than expected costs of student support during the economic downturn”. Of this cut, £84 million will be switched from capital baselines, leaving a £51 million cut in teaching grant.  The letter says these savings should be delivered “in ways that minimise impact on teaching and students”, but doesn’t say who should bear the maximum impact. It also says “greater efficiency, improved collaboration and bearing down on costs will need to be combined with a commitment to protect quality and access”. In other words, all we have to do is supply a high-quality service at bargain-basement prices. Easy.

The research element of the funding is held roughly constant (at the obvious expense of teaching): “we have agreed to switch £84 million from your capital baselines, so that the reductions to the teaching grant can be held to £51 million.” Although the research funding is maintained in level, Mandelson says “securing greater economic and social impact will be important over the next year”. Not thinking in the short term, then. Next year will do.

The letter also asks HEFCE to develop proposals on:

  • Creating a more diverse higher education landscape, by increasing the range of alternatives to the full-time three year degree;
  • Maximising the impact that higher education makes to the economy by supporting the programmes with highest economic and social value;
  • Supporting research concentration to underpin our world class ranking, while continuing to support excellence in research;
  • Developing a standard set of information about higher education, so that all students can exercise informed choice about courses and institutions.

What these points really mean is:

  • Realising that slashing student support and increasing fees is going to deter many students from doing a degree, Mandy wants us to make up for it by offering more part-time degrees so students can work full-time as well as studying. Bad news for laboratory-based subjects.
  • Impact again. I’ve explained what that means already
  • In the letter, Mandelson makes clear the “Government’s presumption in favour of more, rather than less, research concentration”. Apparently they don’t care about doing the best research possible, just doing it in a smaller number of places. Idiotic. More worryingly still, Mandelson asks HEFCE to suggest how to achieve this in the 2010-11 allocations. In other words he wants HEFCE to tweak the funding  allocations arising from the 2008 RAE even further to stamp out excellence that isn’t sufficiently “concentrated”.
  • One size clearly fits all in Mandy’s Discount House of Higher Education.

Finally, Mandelson leaves us with the following message of goodwill

Over the next year, moving towards a sustainable position on pensions within the sector will be a key challenge

In other words, “I’m after your pensions too….”

Merry Christmas, Lord Mandelson. It’s a good job you’ll be out on your ear after the next election. But then I assume you’ve got a nice fat pension stashed away already.