University principal warns of 'grave situation' for the sector

One principal claims problems were being driven by both policy and inaction from ministers.

Scottish university principal warns of ‘grave situation’ for the sector PA Media

Funding issues have left higher education institutions facing a “terrible situation with no real relief” in sight, a university principal has warned.

Professor Steve Olivier, the principal and vice chancellor of Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, spoke out about the “grave situation” for the sector – adding that the problems were being driven by both policy and inaction from ministers.

He spoke out as Labour finance spokesperson Michael Marra criticised Finance Secretary Shona Robison, saying some two months on from her draft budget being announced, universities and colleges still had no indication of how much funding they would receive for 2024-25.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Scottish Labour conference in Glasgow, Mr Marra said: “This current Finance Secretary seems to have no control over the situation whatsoever.”

He added: “I think the way this has been handled in Scotland is really difficult.”

With Professor Dame Sally Mapstone, the then-convener of Universities Scotland, having warned last year that funding for institutions must improve to avoid a “managed decline”, Prof Oliver commented: “It’s a terrible situation with no real relief in sight.

“Some of that I am afraid is policy driven and inaction driven.”

He said it was a “funding issue” telling the event, organised by Robert Gordon University and the University Alliance, that teaching allocations in the sector have been cut by almost a fifth (19%) since 2012-13.

Teaching allocations in the sector have been cut by almost a fifth (19%) since 2012-13, says one rector. STV News

“In the most recent year we are now talking another £28.1 million down,” Prof Olivier added.

“We’re already underfunded compared to England. So we’re struggling.”

He went on to say that he knew of “at least three Scottish universities that are talking about £15 million deficits next year”, saying the sector was “gravely worried about this”.

He continued: “I don’t believe that this situation is sustainable, I say that with sadness because we have got such a great system.”

Mr Marra meanwhile said the sector in Scotland was “in a state of relative decline”, but added: “The SNP are not managing it, it’s chaos.”

He hit out at the Finance Secretary, saying that colleges are universities “still don’t know” how much money they will have for the coming year.

While he said that institutions would normally receive a funding indication “24 hours after the budget announcement” from the Scottish Government, the Labour MSP claimed: “We find ourselves two months on from the budget statement in December, universities and colleges  still don’t know how much money they’ve got.

“They still don’t know where their budgets are going to come from, and they have applications for courses with no idea if they can run the courses people have applied for.”

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.

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