NPC/03/10/A: Enterprise Committee, Inquiry into the Impact of Englandīs University Fees on Scottish Higher Education

This section...

Also in Consultations 2003...

by Tim Brown

Executive Summary

It is of deep concern amongst members of the National Postgraduate Committee Scotland that the DfES Higher Education White Paper will have significant effects on higher education in Scotland. Such proposals to change English higher education institutions could lead to a significant loss of academic and research staff in Scotland while at the same time there could be a rapidly increased intake of English students searching for an economical education. It is particularly concerning for us as to whether this will lead to a reduction of postgraduates as well as less access to postgraduate education within Scotland due to the possible threats to research infrastructure.

We would urge the Scottish Executive to seek funding that will maintain a competitive higher education system in Scotland. Also we would encourage support from other sources such as business and alumni although we would not expect this to be income that is relied on to support core infrastructure. It is of great concern to us that the possibility of increasing the graduate endowment or international fees will be possible. We stress our concern that we are strongly against such proposals due to the effect they will have on access to postgraduate education both inside and outside the UK. The alternative, we consider, is to introduce a progressive general tax.

Preamble

The National Postgraduate Committee (NPC) is a charity with the aim to advance, in the public interest, postgraduate education in the UK, which also has a subcommittee, NPC Scotland. We organise meetings and conferences, publish best practice guidelines and seek to influence public policy on all aspects of postgraduate education. Our membership consists of affiliated student representative bodies from across the UK including Scotland; we have one full-time officer, the General Secretary, and fourteen voluntary officers. NPC Scotland works closely with the National Union of Students Scotland, the Coalition for Higher Education Students in Scotland and the lecturers unions as well as other bodies relevant to postgraduate education.

Competitive disadvantages to postgraduates within Scotland

As will be seen from our response to the higher education white paper [1] our main concern is the impact on access to postgraduate education that will come about from concentration of research funding. It is clearly the case that concentration will cause the research to be located in select institutions, mostly in the South East of England, which will have implications in terms of what funding will be given by the research councils to Scotland. Potential loss of academic and research staff in addition to this will result in a serious detriment to the research infrastructure. We would continue to emphasise our view that the diversity and choice available to the postgraduate community will be extremely limited in terms of:

  • Loss of smaller research units that, unlike many larger research units, provide helpful support and training.
  • Removal of research in a number of areas where industry is strong and access to part time postgraduate education will be beneficial for many. This may not be possible where travelling long distance is required.
  • Larger research intensive institutions could become perceived as for a select group of students pursuing higher degrees.

The possible attraction of academic and research staff to move to institutions in England, will further the loss of vital research infrastructure and likewise less postgraduate programmes will be available. It is highly concerning that if Scotland is not able to maintain such standards, then there will be postgraduates (both from inside and outside the UK) moving towards the South East of England, since funding available to them and also costs involved are not likely to have significant difference. The only difference will be access to world class research.

We also see loss of academic staff causing potential threats to the teaching quality available in Scotland. This will affect the UK, EU and international market where comparative costs will not appear significantly different. This will not be helpful for a knowledge based economy where research can inform teaching and also have support through consortia.

Finally we re-iterate our opposition to undergraduate top-up fees and support the move to not introduce them within Scotland. They will bear a significant burden on undergraduates causing them to be deterred from postgraduate study or research. A postgraduate survey carried out in 2002 [2] shows that the more than three quarters of full time students cited financial reasons as the main obstacle they had to overcome to go into postgraduate study. It is difficult to identify at this point whether English students will be attracted to study in Scotland, with the hope that postgraduate education will be more financially viable. The decision of the prospective undergraduate may be influenced by whether undergraduate courses on offer in Scotland are perceived as not suitable to enter postgraduate study if access to research is limited.

Possible solutions to maintain competitiveness

To provide a competitive infrastructure for Scotlands Universities it is likely that a number of sources of funding will be required. An obvious source, which we fear will be considered is the possible increase in graduate endowment. While graduate endowments provide significantly less burden than that of tuition fees, we are highly concerned that this may still create further barriers for prospective postgraduates. NPC Scotland therefore does not support graduate endowments and as an alternative, we propose that a progressive general tax is introduced. We believe that Scotlands economy can meet the demands of this since higher education is an important element with 50% of students entering higher education, a significant proportion of which will need to continue to postgraduate education. In addition to not supporting graduate endowment, we also do not support the repayment threshold being as low as Ģ15,000, rather we would ask that it should be as high as Ģ25,000 as recommended in the Cubie report.

With many postgraduate students being international, we are highly concerned about the possible increase in tuition fees which are not regulated. The National Postgraduate Committee has long standing policy throughout the UK not to support the immensely high tuition fees which increase above inflation as a major source of income to higher education institutions. We believe that the opinion of Sir Richard Sykes, Rector of Imperial College, London [3] is not unique to his institution in that income from international students is vital to the infrastructure of higher education institutions. We would therefore stress that this option should not be considered as it will be to the detriment of students coming from poor countries.

Support to the research and teaching in the higher education sector will not be sustained without core public funding. We are concerned that public funding is invested at this point not only to maintain competitiveness in the immediate future but also in the longer term. It is unlikely to be the case that the maximum tuition fee charge of 3,000 will remain the same, particularly in light of the Russell Group seeking to increase charges further in the future to as high as Ģ5,000.

We support the need for higher education to gain support from business as well as public funding, which we believe will be successfully achieved through regional consortia. Although we support this, we stress that any funding of this kind should only be an additional bonus to higher education, not a source of funding to largely rely on. It is our belief that Small to Medium Enterprises particularly are not going to invest in support from the higher education sector without seeing potential benefits to them, which have to be supported by public funding. Research especially will need this support in order to generate a knowledge based economy.

Alumni giving is another source of income that we would not discourage, further to this we would support the use of gift aid, as suggested in the higher education white paper so that charitable support will go further. However, since such support is charitable, we stress that such funding is even more of a danger to rely on and should not be used to fund the core activities essential to higher education.

References

1. Response to the DfES Higher Education Strategy White Paper at http://www.npc.org.uk/page/1051641319
2. S. Goodlad, J. Darwen, E. Bell, National Survey of Postgraduate Funding and Priorities, Summer 2002, National Postgraduate Committee, Produced by University of Warwick Students Union, Sponsored by CSU Prospects, pp 5. http://www.npc.org.uk/page/1054206679.pdf
3. W. Woodward, Running short of firepower in battle for brains, Article from Education Guardian, http://education.guardian.co.uk/universitiesincrisis/story/0,12028,719818,00.html , 22/5/02.