£150m cuts by Hefce

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) previously allocated £52 million for 2015-16 to support postgraduate research degree provision and to compensate for the effects of the REF on STEM subjects. Although this will be maintained, George Osborne from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said we need to save £450 million from its 2015-16 budget, otherwise institutions setting up new initiatives or national facilities will not survive. The Times Higher Education said in their article today www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/hefce-reveals-%C2%A3150m-cut that Hefce has announced cuts of £150m for core teaching grants in universities in England for 2014-15 and 2015-16 periods.

Ms Atkins says: “Given that recurrent research funding has been maintained, we can no longer justify providing this supplementary funding at the expense of more significant reductions to core teaching grants and therefore we will not be making any payments in relation to transitional research funding from teaching sources.”

So lets think about this. Why do we need funds to support teaching core subjects related to STEM disciplines? Students studying subjects in science, technology, engineering and maths need infrastructures and resources to help improve teaching and learning across STEM in higher education. By infrastructure I mean real, lab environments that mimic hot of the press, research with technologies and platforms that motivates students to learn subjects in exciting, multi-disciplinary disciplines. If the environment, whether real or virtual, is lacking and the student experience is less than satisfactory, it is highly likely the student will loose motivation and drop out rates for the programme will increase. Students need teaching resources and infrastructures to help lecturers teach hundreds of students in a single environment simultaneously.

Another issue is cost associated with working in a lab. A student studying a practical based degree in a STEM discipline needs an environment that allows him to experience hands on, investigative activities by working with postgraduate research students. Departments provide pittance to support lab based projects with projects funded by the individual’s research grant income rather than by teaching initiatives. We receive £50 for an undergraduate student to carry out a lab based project. This won’t even cover the costs of a sterile plate let along a six month research project for a final year project student. So what do we do?

We carry on building initiatives knowing that the cuts are going to happen and we are going to face further headaches that squeeze budgets even further. This bureaucracy is pathetic considering that David Cameron said “we need to double the number of engineering graduates in the next five years otherwise we will not survive as an economy and will not be able to compete globally in the STEM financial market”.