Apr 06, 2011 Letters
Late last year, the British Government announced a major budget cut in higher education, as part of its overall spending review arising from the international financial meltdown. The British Government expects to cut its budget to universities by 40 per cent for the next four years from £7.1 billion to £4.2 billion.
Mathematics, engineering, science, and technology, deemed as prioritized courses, will continue to receive appropriate teaching funds; this will not be the case for humanities and social sciences. The preceding Labor Government, too, had a proposal of £600 million in higher education budget cut for a shorter time period. I should also add that the Obama Administration in its 2012 budget earmarked a higher education budget cut of US$89 billion over a 10-year period.
Amid this financial turbulence, Phil Batey (Times Higher Education) noted in Britain the quick spate of dismissals/resignations of several Vice Chancellors/Rector in a mere few months in 2009 – Martin Everett of the University of East London, Sir Roy Anderson of Imperial College, University of London, Simon Lee of Leeds Metropolitan University, and Malcolm Gillies of the City University, London.
These resignations/dismissals of Vice Chancellors/Rector are about governance and accountability concerns. In the Guardian of Britain, Professor Roger Brown recently noted that these governance concerns pertaining to the Vice Chancellor have to do with monitoring and interpreting data on the university’s performance; limited oversight and control over the Vice Chancellor as Chief Executive; not adequately engaging academic staff; and not successful in engaging external stakeholders.
Lord Browne’s Report (2010) on Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education in the United Kingdom addressed these governance concerns some. The Report recommended, among other things, the establishment of baseline standards of quality, and that students obtain quality information in the choice of courses.
When standards and quality are in good standing, then, indisputably, university stakeholders feel a pride and a holy satisfaction in being a part of the institution. These standards and quality would refer to the academic infrastructure and some of its key pieces: frameworks for higher education
qualifications, code of practice, subject benchmark statements, and programme specifications, among others.
Absence of standards and quality will result in absence of national and international credibility; and without appropriate standards and quality, the institution will be shortchanging a nation’s students in the pursuit of national development.
In this day and age, Governments are instituting budget cutbacks in higher education. Furthermore, budget cuts now are becoming the standard feature in higher education in most developing countries.
And people want increasing efficiencies, greater accountability, and increased sensitivity to stakeholder demands. Clearly, higher education is now operating within the market dynamics of a consumer-driven economy.
In addition, the World Bank and UNESCO organized a Task Force of experts from 13 countries to appraise the future of higher education in poor countries. This World Bank/UNESCO Report ‘Higher Education in Developing Countries: Peril and Promise’ concluded that “without more and better higher education, developing countries will find it increasingly difficult to benefit from the global knowledge-based economy.”
And it was clear in the Report that universities in poor countries contribute modestly to national development. Clearly, internationally-acceptable standards and quality are critical for any university’s progressive development.
The Browne Report explained that families should not be burdened with upfront costs for education; this recommendation would ensure that students, especially those from working-class families, are not denied access to higher education because of cost; the government will provide loans to students to access higher education.
Students will use their loans to pay fees, etc.; and they do not have to repay until they graduate and are earning something in the vicinity of £21,000 per year. Universities now have the green light to increase fees, but there is a cap on the increase.
A huge part of the higher education budget cuts from £7.1 billion to £4.2 billion in Britain involves the replacement of government’s teaching grants to universities with these student loans. Minister of State for Universities and Science David Willetts believes that this approach will provide a huge saving in spending and provide reforms to the university’s financial system at the same time; which student preferences for courses will influence vis-à-vis student fees. In this way, students will become the funders of universities in Britain.
Universities can replace this loss of government’s teaching funding grant through attracting more students to their courses. Willets noted that the advantages of this reform model are that there will be no hefty cutback in the unit of resource per student, and no decline in student numbers. The Cameron Coalition Government approved the Browne Report.
The Browne Report reinforces the notion that considerations of university reform and finance must happen conjunctively, as the Anderson Report of 1960, the Lionel Robbins’ Report of 1963, and the Ron Dearing’s report of 1997, indicated. Far too often, we speak to these two concerns separately. And in era of budget cutbacks, efficiencies become the norm in governance theory and practice.
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