The Education Secretary was hit by a storm of protests against his “brutal plan” to scrap London weighting for the teaching grant.
University chiefs warned of a £64 million blow to their budgets.
There were also growing fears that more funding could be slashed in London on transport, housing, council and other services as the Government diverts money to other areas for its “levelling up” agenda and seeks to cling onto “Red Wall” seats in the North and Midlands that it won in the 2019 election.
University bosses warned that the move to scrap key London weighting funding would mean:
– The capital’s 69 higher education institutions having a 13.7 per cent reduction in T-Grant (teaching grant), the equivalent of a £64 million cut.
– A threatened loss of around 1,000 academics across London, which could hit world-leading research including in the fight against future pandemics, as well as worsening staff/student ratios forteaching quality and student experience.
– Student support services, including student mental health and well-being services, facing cutbacks.
– Some higher education institutions each losing between £2 million and £6 million a year.
– Hitting the local economies of some of the capital’s most deprived boroughs.
Dr Diana Beech, chief executive of London Higher, which represents more than 40 universities and higher education colleges based in the capital, said: “For London, the Government’s brutal plan is less about levelling up, and more about levelling down.
“Many of London’s institutions are world-leading, attracting the brightest and best from across the globe, while others are bedrocks in their local boroughs, offering a desperately-needed lifeline for people from some of the most deprived wards in the UK.
“To underfund London’s ‘big names’ threatens to damage the city’s status as a global higher education powerhouse.
“To cut resources for institutions leading efforts to widen access and participation risks taking away opportunities for people in some of the UK’s most disadvantaged communities, for no other reason than they happen to live in the capital.”
Twickenham MP Munira Wilson has written to universities minister Michelle Donelan to voice her “dismay and concern” at the proposed cuts and urge a rethink.
In her letter, she explained that at St Mary’s University in her constituency, 61 per cent of students are from “widening participation” backgrounds, with 28 per cent from black Asian minority ethnic communities, with Roehampton University also serving many students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Warning that more students could drop out if they are offered less support, she stressed: “The removal of London weighting will not ‘level up’ the country, it will deepen disadvantage and seeks to level down London.”
In strikingly strident terms, university chiefs lined up to condemn the slashing of the additional funding brought in to meet the extra costs of providing courses in London.
Professor Frances Corner, Warden of Goldsmiths, University of London, said: “With our home borough of Lewisham being among England’s poorest areas the withdrawal of this funding looks more like ‘punching down’ than ‘levelling up’. “Our activities generate £91 million for Lewisham and support 3,600 jobs in the borough and any cuts to London Weighting will only make it more difficult for us to help our local community recover from Covid-19.
“We estimate these changes will see us lose over£2 million in funding every year, particularly impacting the funding forteaching creative courses, many of whose graduates go on to work in the creative industries that the Government’s own figures show are worth £111billion a year to the UK economy.
“We should be investing more in universities in England’s poorest boroughs and more in the graduates who make sectors such as Britain’s film and television industries a £20.8 billion a year success story.”
Professor David Phoenix, Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University which is set to lose around £3 million a year, was even more outspoken.
“It’s difficult to see the removal of London weighting as anything other than an attack on London students,” he said.
“London weighting was introduced 100 years ago to bring fairness into funding of public services and rightly applies to most public servants in the capital.
“If there isn’t some central contribution to the higher costs of operating in London, there is less funding left to spend on student support than is the case outside London
“Rather than ‘levelling up’, removing London weighting seems to be a deliberate step to ‘level down’ education and deny students in London an equal level of support. This would hit the most disadvantaged hardest where the support we give enhances their chance to learn, develop and succeed.”
Professor Sir Paul Curran, president of City, University of London, which is set to lose around £2.7 million, and who chairs London Higher’s London Weighting Working Group, added: “London is fortunate, there is no city in the world with a greater diversity of world-leading universities. The Secretary of State for Education has decided that in support of the national ‘levelling-up’ agenda and despite the exceptionally high costs of operating in London, the capital’s great universities are to be ‘levelled-down’.
“From September, the teaching grant for London universities is to be cut by an average of 13 per cent and the resulting £64million redistributed around the country. This cut will add to the pressure on universities in the capital as they strive to continue to deliver world class education for our young people and contribute to the post-pandemic recovery.”
There are also concerns that the Government could wield the axe on more funding for the capital’s services and vital infrastructure, despite Boris Johnson having been Mayor of London.
Professor Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics, said: “The Conservative Party was traditionally not the party of levelling down but it now is at risk of levelling down as far as London and it’s people are concerned.”
After the proposed university cuts, he added: “There is a risk that the same approach is taken for transport, councils and housing.”
Defending the London weighting, university bosses cited a 2019 report by KPMG for the Department for Education which highlighted the extra costs of delivering course for students in the capital,14 per cent more than the average for England.
It states: “The average weighted average unit cost for each student FTE (full time equivalent) for England for all provision was £10,365. In common with the funding weighting, the unit cost for London was14.1 per cent higher than the England average.”
They also said that as part of the proposed reforms higher education institutions would benefit from £85 million extra going to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects nationwide and other priority courses such as medicine, but that £20 million was being cut from budgets including for performing arts, creative arts, media studies and archaeology.
Professor Jane Harrington, Vice-Chancellor of Greenwich University, said axing London weighting would mean a £2.5million annual cut.
“Many of our students come from the most deprived boroughs of London, 50 per cent are from BAME communities and 70 percent live at home as they study,” she added.
“The significant reduction to our budget means that we will have less money to continue to support our students and future graduates at a time when they need it most.
“While we welcome the additional funding the Government has recently announced, this is significantly lower than the Teaching Grant. There is a danger that levelling up the country will mean levelling down in London.”
Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, stressed: “The pandemic has shown that London’s great universities are indispensable to Britain and the world, with advances in epidemiology, virology, vaccinology, testing and healthcare. Any cuts hamper our crucial work and threaten Britain’s competitiveness.”
Professor Jenny Higham, Principal of St. George’s, University of London, added: “As a specialist provider for the next generation of healthcare professionals and scientists, this change will result in a recurrent annual loss of £1.7 million. We operate on small margins; this deficit represents almost all our surplus earmarked for re-investment in educational and research facilities.”
University of London Vice-Chancellor, Professor Wendy Thomson, said: “Continuing to fund London’s world-class universities is essential for securing successful recovery and achieving the Government’s ambitions for a Global Britain.
“Cutting London’s Teaching Grants ignores the levelling up required within London where so many residents are living in poverty and where so many young people are struggling with the impact ofCovid-19. With so much uncertainty facing HE institutions in London, this is not the time to take away government support.”
In a letter to Sir Michael Barber, chairman of the Office for Students regulator, Mr Williamson outlined the plan to ditch London weighting from the teaching grant.
“The levelling-up agenda is key to this government, and we think it is inconsistent with this to invest additional money in London providers, the only such regional weighting that exists in the grant.
“The OfS should remove weightings for London providers from across the T-grant.”
A Department for Education spokesperson added: “London weighting is a very small proportion of individual universities’ total income.
“This top-up is taxpayer-funded so we have strategically allocated money towards student mental health and hardship and increased funding for world-class small and specialist higher education providers, many of which are based in London.
“We want higher education funding to focus on helping us to build back better – supporting the skills this country needs.”
— to www.standard.co.uk