How much cross-subsidy? Research funding and the British university*

This post makes some very important points about how research is so underfunded in UK universities that it can only be sustained by cross-subsidy from teaching income mainly generated by other subjects, especially from overseas students who are charged extremely high fees. This is particularly true for experimental science subjects, for which the cost of research activity far exceeds the funds available from government agencies. I don’t think it will be long until this leads to a crisis. In fact, I think it’s happening already.

[ex-] HEAD OF DEPARTMENT’S BLOG

A recent HEPI report exposes the confidence trick that sustains British higher education. Research excellence leads to high international status; this in turn leads to high numbers of international students; and these students underwrite the research. Simple, but maybe not sustainable, especially in the current climate. Indeed an examination of this creaky merry-go-round exposes the risks that face UK universities.

How much is too much?

The report, How much is too much? Cross-subsidies from teaching to research in British universities, by University of Oxford MPhil student Vicky Olive, grabbed headlines for its calculation that international students contribute, on average, £8,000 per year to research funding. The author used Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) data (imperfect, yes, but the best information we have) to track income and expenditure, working largely at institutional level. Unsurprisingly, she found that teaching subsidises research. However, it’s almost entirely the surplus value from international students…

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