Ongoing financial uncertainty for the UK’s university and research sectors has continued to grow, alongside increasingly vocal calls for political solutions.
HESA data published last month showed that UK higher education institutions spent around £4 billion more than they received in 2021-22. The larger, research-intensive institutions were among those showing the largest losses, with members of the Russell Group being over-represented. King’s College London reported the largest net loss of £247.4m. It was followed by UCL (£236.6m), the Open University (£223.5m), the University of Birmingham (£154.7m), and the University of Liverpool (£141.1m).
With a UK General Election expected next year, increasing scrutiny is being given to what an incoming Labour government might seek to do. In an interview in The Observer, Kier Starmer said Labour would bring forward plans to make student financing ‘fairer’, whilst conspicuously avoiding saying he would scrap tuition fees completely (as he promised in his 2019 leadership campaign). Meanwhile, a leaked draft policy document seen by LabourList, indicated that the party is contemplating a number of R&D-related policies in the run up to a likely UK General Election next year. These include a plan to invest at least 3% of GDP on R&D and a pledge to unblock UK participation in Horizon Europe. Social scientists will be interested to note that the party is also considering a plan to return Official Development Assistance spending to 0.7% of gross national income “as soon as the fiscal situation allows”.
A recent WonkHE blog examined what other options UK Labour might seek to pursue against the backdrop of sectoral challenges.
DSIT interim board
The UK Government’s Department for Science, Innovation & Technology announced seven inaugural non-executive members of its new interim Board. Amongst the names included are Tim Peake (former European Space Agency astronaut), Ron Dennis CBE (former Chairman and CEO of the McLaren F1 Team) and Baroness Alison Wolf (Professor at King’s College London). Board members will serve for nine months on an initial Start-Up Board that will nurture DSIT through its first year of existence, before a permanent Board is recruited in due course.
We recently wrote to the interim DSIT Secretary, Chloe Smith, to call for the development of a social science framework to complement the department’s science & technology framework, noting the lack of social science voices on the new board.
Horizon negotiations continue, with the UK Government seeking to chisel the EU on the cost of association, arguing that the 2+yr delays have caused serious and lasting damage to the UK’s R&D, fusion and Earth observation sectors. Responding to an oral question, interim Secretary of State for DSIT, Chloe Smith, said “it is absolutely the case that we need to accommodate the lasting impact of two years of EU delays to the UK’s association”. The UK Government has argued that it is not simply a case of taking two years off the bill and that the delays have had an adverse impact on the UK’s ability to participate in EU programmes in future.