Policy Exchange, an influential UK think tank, has suggested the government redistributes more than £500 million from university funds to further education colleges, in a report released this week. The report – Higher, Further, Faster, More: Improving higher level professional and technical education – begins with a quote taken from King’s College professor, Baroness Alison Wolf’s recent research piece on Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE) funding in which she claims that the current education situation is unsustainable and unfair in its distribution of resources.
“In post-19 education, we are producing vanishingly small numbers of higher technician level qualifications, while massively increasing the output of generalist bachelor’s degrees and low-level vocational qualifications… We therefore need, as a matter of urgency, to start thinking about post-19 funding and provision in a far more integrated way.”
Redistributing higher education funding
The Policy Exchange report goes on to suggest that the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) should reallocate £532 million from higher education funds in its next spending review in order to create a universal student and maintenance loan for further education students. The reasoning behind the thinking is that this would create equal opportunities for those wishing to study at a further education provider as well as those wishing to attend university.
The report goes on to say that higher education institutions have received increased funding since 2009 and that they now sit on financial reserves amounting to as much as £12.3 billion. In contrast, further education providers have reportedly had their budgets cut by 24% in the same timeframe and many colleges have faced financial difficulty as a result.
Policy Exchange’s head of education, Jonathan Simons, recently highlighted that secondary schools are penalised for having a budget surplus of 5% or higher. Universities on the other hand collectively had a surplus of 48% in 2014. While much of the university surplus comes from tuition fees and is earmarked for marketing and recruitment strategies in an increasingly competitive market, the sheer scale of the surplus leads Simons to question it.
“At a time when public services across the country are facing ongoing austerity as a result of the spending review, government has a duty to look hard at every element of spending, to ensure maximum value for money across the board,” Simons claims.
Higher education vs. further education
The finding of this report is likely to invoke a strong reaction from professionals in the industry – either in favour of its suggestions or opposed to them. With education professionals such as Wolf, Simons and his co-author in the Policy Exchange report, Natasha Porter, taking the pro stance, Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, has been known to take the con. She argues that making cuts to higher education would be a false economy and that it simply should not be an either-or choice between further and higher education:
“A strong university sector is fundamental to a strong economy, and ultimately a prosperous society. The outcome of this Comprehensive Spending Review later this autumn will show us the extent to which the government not only recognises this but can back it up with some tough, but positive and far-sighted, decisions.”
Dandridge goes on to point out that universities have, in fact, become more cost-effective and responsive to the needs of students and employers in recent years – delivering efficiencies totalling over £1 billion in the last three years.
So is it a case of HE vs FE, or can the two co-exist peacefully within the limitations of the UK budget? Have your say by tweeting us or finding us on LinkedIn.