Policy Update – December 2022

Sharon Witherspoon MBE FAcSS, Head of Policy, Academy of Social Sciences 

Autumn Statement funding announcements

The government’s Autumn Statement contained some welcome news for university research funding.  Planned spending increases for UKRI’s science budget remain, with a genuine uplift to public R&D spending through 2024/25 to £20 bn.  Later BEIS announced additional funds of nearly half a billion to support UK research while EU Horizon funding is still uncertain.  The funding is in various streams, many of which will be aimed at science infrastructure, but there is an uplift to QR too.

On the other hand, spending on international development, including research, remains frozen over the same period, as does HE student funding.  Universities, especially those who do not recruit international students, will continue to feel squeezed.  And at a time of rising numbers of aspiring HE students, this may grow as a political issue.

Confirmed Ministerial appointments

Ministerial responsibilities are now clearer.  George Freeman is the Minister for Science with responsibility for UKRI and Horizon Europe.  Nusrat Ghani is the Minister for Industry but aspects of her brief will be relevant for social sciences (including elements related to levelling up).  While the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, retains overall responsibility for higher education, the Minister for Skills, Robert Halfon, has had Higher Education added to his title.  In addition to a focus on post-16 skills, higher education quality and reform and other HE policies will lie with him.

Office for Students plans for regulation

In related news, the Office for Students has now announced its regulatory plans for scrutiny of student outcomes in England.  Seven subjects – most of them social sciences – will be looked at in 20 universities (who will be announced later this year).  The social science subjects are business and management; law; psychology; and sociology, anthropology and social policy.  History, archaeology, sport sciences and computing are also selected.   Under the new regulations, 80% of undergraduates must continue to the next year, 75% must graduate, and 60% must go onto further study, ‘graduate level’ employment or ‘other positive outcomes’.  We will of course be discussing this with Learned Societies and others.  OfS continues to say that local contexts will be taken into account.

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