Higher education has undergone a great deal of change in recent years. The amount that universities can charge for tuition has risen to £9,000 per year, although the amount each student pays varies greatly depending on which part of the UK they are from and where they choose to study. As tuition fees have risen, block grant funding for teaching has fallen, and English universities have also had the cap on student numbers removed. The number of full-time undergraduate students has risen, but the number of part-time and mature students has fallen dramatically.
UCU has called on the next Westminster government to look again at student finance and consider radical alternatives to the current English system of tuition fees, ensuring that an individuals’ concerns about finance are not a barrier to their ambition. Additional funding resource is required to close the public investment gap with international competitors.
Rather than charge students for their education, UCU proposes that large, profitable employers who benefit from the plentiful supply of graduates should pay a new Business Education Tax (BET) in the form of raised corporation tax. This innovative, practical and radical approach would produce more money for higher education than the current tuition fee scheme, and would cost less to administer.
UCU would also like to see measures put in place to better support part time, mature and postgraduate study. Postgraduate students are vital for the replenishment of the higher education workforce, and more funded studentships are required. Greater flexibility in funding for part-time study is also needed to ensure that higher education is accessible to everyone.
The valuable contribution made by international students must also be recognised; they should be removed from net migration targets and the government should work to recalibrate the national attitude to immigration and promote the UK’s colleges and universities as welcoming places to study.
In terms of research, UCU would like to see a real terms increase in the research budget to around 3% of GDP to bring the UK in line with other countries such as Germany and the US, as well as an increase in the number of research council-funded studentships. More broadly, UCU feels the time is right to consider a wide-ranging independent review of research policy, with a broad membership base and opportunities for genuine consultation with staff, students and employers.