University funding needed to avoid 'managed decline', ministers warned

The warning from Universities Scotland follows allocations from the Scottish Funding Council.

Scottish university funding needs to improve in bid to avoid ‘managed decline’, ministers warned iStock

Funding for universities must improve to avoid a “managed decline” of the sector, a leading body has warned.

Universities Scotland, which represents the sector, said seven institutions are facing a cash cut in their funding.

The warning was issued after universities were given a flat cash settlement in the latest allocations from the Scottish Funding Council, announced on Thursday.

The organisation warned in December, when the Scottish Government’s budget was announced, that the sector faced a real-terms cut.

Professor Dame Sally Mapstone, convener of Universities Scotland, highlighted a particular concern for the future of research funding.

She said: “With inflation still sitting in double figures, universities will find it difficult to manage real-terms cuts of that scale.

“Provision for students, who need a greater intensity of quality support after two tough pandemic years, is likely to be affected.

“Research funding is also concerning. Not enough is being invested in the research excellence grant to reward institutions for their world-leading research performance last year.”

She added: “A fixed funding pot means most institutions are being cut in real terms, compromising the investment they can leverage directly and their impact on Scotland’s economy more broadly.

“Presiding over managed decline cannot be the direction that the new administration actively wants to take.

“The sector needs to get back to a more sustainable financial footing, equipping it to deliver for the benefit of all.

“This has to be a priority conversation between institutions, the Scottish Government and Scottish Funding Council.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The 2023-24 Budget allocated nearly £2bn to Scotland’s universities and colleges through the Scottish Funding Council, demonstrating our commitment to supporting our learners and institutions.

“The latest Higher Education Student Statistics showed that 33,880 Scottish domiciled full-time first degree entrants attended our universities in the 2021-22 academic year – a 31.4% increase since 2006-07.

“Ministers welcome the publication of indicative core funding allocations by the Scottish Funding Council, maintaining overall funding levels in teaching and research despite the challenging fiscal environment.

“This will enable colleges and universities to move forward with their planning for the academic year 2023-24.

“Ministers have made an additional £5.5m capital investment in university innovation, and this year we are able to continue our £5m funding to support digital poverty across colleges, universities and community learning and development providers.”

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