Higher education standards in Britain threatened by lack of public funding
Recent research by a group based at the University of Melbourne has placed Britain 10th in the developed world.
by Molly Avery
Friday 18th May 2012, 13:47 BST
The study, carried out on behalf of Universitas 21, reveals a lack of resources made available to UK institutions, despite the continued prestige of Oxford and Cambridge.
Alongside more traditional measurements of international connectivity and research output, in which the UK continues to excel, the new study attributes a 25% weighting in its final judgement to ‘resources’. Calculated from the total expenditure on tertiary education as a percentage of the nation’s GDP, it is here that the UK is significantly lacking, sitting at 27th for overall resources and just 41stout of 48 countries in terms of government expenditure.
In contrast, the UK remains 2nd only to the USA in output, indicating the highest productivity of all 48 countries. Though a testament to the excellence of UK institutions, these findings question the continued sustainability of UK prestige in global higher education.
Prof Ross Williams, of the University of Melbourne and one of the lead writers of the report told BBC News:
"The model is that if you want to maintain high output you must maintain high resource levels. Think of all the extra resources that are going to higher education in East Asian countries. You are going to have to put in more resources even to maintain your rankings."
Assessing higher education systems as whole, rather than individual universities, the study’s findings with regards to our continued lack of public investment are an ominous sign for the future. Beyond those universities that occupy the top ten rankings, when productivity is compared on a per capita basis the UK lies far behind the depth of world-class universities found in Switzerland and Sweden.
A recent Higher Education Policy Institute study conducted across 9,000 students reveals little change has been found in education quality since fees tripled in 2006. In the context of current cuts to public spending and fee rises it is difficult to imagine how the UK will be able to sustain its current levels of output across the board.
Nordic countries such as Sweden, Finland, and Denmark trounce the UK both in public investment and overall effectiveness - ranking top 5 in the new study in both respects.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK said:
“We continue to spend less on higher education as a percentage of GDP than the average of OECD countries. We should remain acutely aware that other countries are investing more than the UK and that our reputation as a world-class provider of higher education is not a foregone conclusion.”