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Are changes to funding creating a higher education bubble in the UK?

31 Mar 2015, by Informa Insights

The recent establishment of the Centre for Global Higher Education by the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), has demonstrated the growing need for analysis into international trends within the higher education sector.

New analysis into the trends of students moving into higher education has shown that there is an increase in both the amount of UK-based and cross-border students choosing to study at the tertiary level in the UK.

Director of the Centre for Global Higher Education, Professor Chris Husbands said that the creation of this new centre is a reflection of the growing importance of higher education in the UK. He states: “There has never been a time in the history of the world when universities have mattered to more people than they do today. The Centre for Global Higher Education will further strengthen the IOE’s contribution to understanding the extraordinary expansion of universities around the world.”

Although there has been an increasing number in students moving into UK universities, there are clear winners and losers after the Hefce funding allocations were announced on the 26th March. €1.6bn in funds were distributed through a REF-based system, which resulted in many changes to those who gained the most and those who were left out.

Image credit - Times Higher Education 26th March
Image credit – Times Higher Education 26th March 2015
Image credit - Times Higher Education 26th March 2015
Image credit – Times Higher Education 26th March 2015

Professor Simon Marginson addresses the challenge of dealing with increasing numbers of students and a lack of facilities. He states: “Higher education is the site of significant policy dilemmas. Social access to education is expanding, yet in many countries higher education systems, and societies, are becoming more unequal.

“Research is more important than ever – but there is insufficient support for expanding the tax base that pays for it.”

King’s College in London provides a good case study to support this claim. Data centre facilities have recently come under light as many universities, including King’s College, have inefficient and outdated infrastructure to deal with future technology development.

King’s College in particular is lacking High Performance Computing (HPC) infrastructure for medical research programmes, in which it is vital to analyse large amounts of data at high speeds.

Due to the lack of funding in research lately, universities have developed partnerships in order to share these much needed facilities. King’s College London created a partnership with five other research intensive institutions including University College London, The Sanger Institute, The Francis Crick Institute, The London School of Economics & Political Science and Queen Mary University of London.

So what we have here may be seen as a catch 22 – students will be attracted to universities with the best facilities, but many organisations need to resort to establishing philanthropic partnerships, and sharing facilities with other universities to ensure they maintain quality due to a lack of funding.

Image credit: Times Higher Education 26th March 2015
Image credit: Times Higher Education 26th March 2015
Image credit: Times Higher Education 26th March 2015
Image credit: Times Higher Education 26th March 2015

Professor Simon states that international students play a key role in the UK economy and build international understanding, yet there is widespread unease about migration, temporary or permanent, not just in the UK but also in much of Europe. He states:

“We want higher education to engage more closely with industry, yet commercialisation can undermine academic objectivity and independence. These are ongoing problems for the new centre to grapple with.”


Let us know what you think! Will some universities be hit the hardest by these new changes to funding? And will research programmes be impacted as well? Comment below or tweet @routledgeevents. These very issues are also being discussed as part of the Routledge Global Higher Education Series, with the first event, the UK Higher Education Regulation Forum coming up in three weeks. You can view the agenda and register on the Routledge Events homepage.

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