Government plans to axe degree funding for certain students contradict its own lifelong learning agenda and will hit universities offering courses to adults and part-time students the hardest, warned the University and College Union (UCU).
In September, the government announced that, from 2008, £100m of funding for students who are studying for a higher education qualification that is equivalent to, or lower than, a qualification that they have already been awarded would be withdrawn.
Analysis by UCU of the data on the potential financial implications for universities and colleges has revealed that post-92 universities (former polytechnics) and institutions specialising in offering degrees to workers wishing to retrain, will be the biggest losers under the new regime.
It said that the Open University will be worst hit losing over £31.6 million in teaching funding by 2014-15.
Birkbeck College, University of London, will lose more than £7.8 million over the same period.
Post-92 institutions feature prominently at the top of the list of the biggest losers, although Oxford University comes in fourth and will lose over £4m.
Certain subject areas such as health-related degrees, social work, initial teacher training courses and medicine and veterinary studies will be exempt from the cutbacks.
However particular subject areas, mainly in the social sciences and the humanities, are likely to bear the brunt of reductions in public funding.
A full list of protected courses is available on the HEFCE website www.hefce.ac.uk.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘The government may prefer to describe these cuts as a relocation of funding, but the bottom line is that institutions doing the most to try and deliver both the widening participation agenda and the lifelong learning agenda will be hit the hardest.
‘The Leitch report makes it clear that people need to retrain and refresh their skills.
‘We fully support initiatives to encourage new learners into higher education, but we cannot support doors being slammed in the faces of others who wish to develop their skills.
‘These cuts completely undermine the government’s desire to provide the workforce with accessible part-time provision.’
In a letter to UCU branches, Hunt said: ‘Dear Colleague
‘Back in September, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) requested that the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) withdraws funding for students who are studying for an HE qualification that is equivalent to, or lower than, a qualification that they have already been awarded.
‘The Government has argued that teaching such students “is not . . . usually as high a priority for public funding as support for students who are either entering higher education for the first time, or progressing to higher qualifications”.
‘HEFCE have now published proposals for implementing the new policy on equivalent or lower qualifications (ELQs).
‘An ELQ is a qualification that is equivalent to, or lower than, a qualification that the student has already achieved.
‘For instance, someone who already has an honours degree and who is studying for a second honours degree would count as studying for an ELQ.
‘In contrast, a student who has a foundation degree and who is now studying for an honours degree would not count as studying for an ELQ, as this student is aiming for a higher level qualification.
‘The key features of the HEFCE policy are as follows:
l Funding for ELQs will be reduced by £100 million by 2010-11 (though the savings will be reallocated by HEFCE in support of widening participation).
l The process of phasing out funding for ELQs should begin in 2008-09.
l Existing ELQ students will not be affected by the proposed changes.
l In accordance with Student Fees Regulations and Student Support Regulations, a number of courses will be exempt from the new policy.
These include students on courses in nursing, midwifery, health-related care professions, social work, initial teacher training courses and all students on undergraduate courses leading to a first registerable qualification as a medical doctor, dentist or veterinary surgeon (a full list is available on the HEFCE website).
l All foundation degrees will also be exempt from the withdrawal of funding for equivalent or lower qualifications.
l HEFCE will also continue to provide targeted allocation to support students studying for ELQs in so-called “strategically important and vulnerable subjects” such as physics, modern foreign languages and land-based studies.
l The funding council will provide a £20 million supplement to the part-time targeted allocation.
l Where necessary, HEFCE will also provide “safety net” funding to maintain each institution’s grant at a comparable 2007-08 level in cash terms.
‘Despite the exemptions, “safety net” measures and additional supplement for part-time allocation, the UCU is very concerned about the potential impact on participation by mature and part-time students.
‘The ELQ policy appears to contradict the government’s agenda for lifelong learning (i.e. the need for workers to retrain and refresh their knowledge and skills at different points in their lives).
‘We are particularly concerned about the detrimental impact on adult-orientated universities with large numbers of EQL students.
‘HEFCE have now published technical modelling data on the potential financial implications for Higher Education Institutions and Further Education Colleges.
‘Initial UCU analysis of the data indicates that the Open University is set to lose over £31.6 million in teaching funding by 2014-15 and Birkbeck is set to lose £7.8 million over the same period. Post 92 HEIs, especially London Metropolitan, are also likely to experience significant reductions in public funding for teaching.
‘Particular subject areas, mainly in the social sciences and the humanities, are likely to bear the brunt of reductions in public funding. The UCU’s analysis of the data is included as an appendix.
‘The UCU is planning to submit a national response to the HEFCE consultation document.
‘In order to shape this response, we would welcome comments from branches, local associations and members on the current ELQ policy, both its general direction and the specific proposals outlined in the HEFCE document.