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The Browne Review report

Too depressing for words. If I can muster the energy, I'll write a longer commentary later this week. For the time being, let me echo the words of Sally Hunt: "Lord Browne's recommendations, if enacted, represent the final nail in the coffin for affordable higher education."

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I didn't think this was a cost-cutting exercise, the proposals won't cost the government any less but they won't cost them any more and I think eventually they will see more of it back than they do now (but without the increase in interest rates that won't be much either).

Is it rather then that the preferred approach would be to spend more on universities? Because that's a bit, well.. simplistic? And surely that's just what every area (NHS, schools etc) would like too.

Compare our total spending on HE as a %age of GDP to that of any of our G8 competitors. Hell, compare it to the OECD average - we spend less.

Meanwhile, student numbers have risen, while per-capita spending has declined in equal measure. Teaching in many universities survives only due to the numbers of overseas MSc students; this year, my School had an undergraduate intake of 326 students, predominantly from the UK, and a taught postgrad intake of 453, overwhelmingly from overseas (mostly China, India and Saudi Arabia).

We're still punching above our weight on the research front, and research in UK HE is considered to be amongst the most efficient in the world in terms of return on investment. UK HE delivers sustainable value to the UK economy; we can't survive as a pure service economy, and manufacturing has been in decline for decades.

So yes, the sensible approach would be to keep funding HE at its current level rather than cutting it by anywhere between 25% and 40% (if we're lucky. The *preferred* approach would be to do as our competitors are doing, and increase HE funding; if the plan it to eliminate the deficit by growing the economy, this is a sensible way of doing so.

Christ if only. Can I quote some of this?

Just interesting numerical comparison from a non STEM school as amzed at your MSc figs : Sheffield Law dept teaches c 1200 UGs over 3 years (huge - last year's 3rd year had 600, a high bump)and has c 30-50 Masters students, more than 50% but not overwhelmingly overseas (tho overwhelmingly non UK). (Not counting the LPC people as that's sorta different.) And we are a vocational, business oriented discipline.

You really can only conclude from these clear figures there is an underlying hatred of intellectualism.

Also c 1/5 of those UGs are overseas which is one of the things that keeps us solvent. But means they are more than ill fitted to an UG degree in a subject which is essentially English textual interpretation and drafting.

Sure, quote as you wish.

Do universities accept sponsorship money? Do they have different tiers of 'strategic partners' for modules/courses/departments?

Have there been any talks on mergers between the various Uni's of the South Coast? Swop you a biology department for Chemistry? Axe Humanities and go Tech/Science only?

How many departments would survive on their own cost structure as it stands?

The commercial model is ruthless in this regard. You keep on cutting until you know you've gone too far. You cut staff numbers by 10,20% and people will work more to fill in the gaps. It's only when everyone complains and there is an obvious bottleneck that you know you have gone too far. Until then you keep on cutting.

It's like the insurance investigations in Fight Club, there's acceptable levels of losses. When your focus is on cutting costs, customer service comes second and staff satisfaction a distant third. In a world obsessed with cutting costs every role has to raise income or cut costs. If it doesn't then it's a luxury and likely to get chopped in the next round of cuts. It's a world where length of service, retained knowledge and general effectiveness mean little. Burn it all down and then let it regrow.

Have there been any talks on mergers between the various Uni's of the South Coast? Swop you a biology department for Chemistry? Axe Humanities and go Tech/Science only?

This has already been happening. When Exeter closed its chemistry department in 2005, many of their staff moved to Bath.

Chemistry in particular has had problems (the lab facilities essential for teaching are expensive, and research income doesn't adequately make up the difference), with around thirty departments (almost half the total number) closing in the UK between 1995 and 2005. This has included some very high profile departments, such as those at Kings College London and QMUL.

How many departments would survive on their own cost structure as it stands?

Not all, clearly. There is a view (to which I'm largely sympathetic, I must admit) that a well-rounded university should entail a degree of cross-subsidisation between richer and poorer departments. Sadly, as the richer departments are feeling the pinch, this is something that many universities can no longer support.

Sad indeed. I hope that before, after and during this period of retrenchment people will hold firm to the ideals on which these universities were built. A university system run on the American educational market is a not the future we should be aiming for. That too is unstable and unsustainable.

The trouble is that setting SPENDING targets, rather than goals about getting results is largely how we got into this mess to begin with.

School spending just kept on rising year on year. There was the goal that state school pupils would be funded at the same level that private school pupils were -- and we very nearly got there. Actually what happened was that private school fees took off way way above inflation towards the end.

But by and large we got quite close to the point where private schools would have got to without the funny kink in their fees. Did we start giving state pupils the same quality of education? Oh quick look over there, never mind the quality, feel the width.

It's really, really easy to spend money. It's a lot harder to make sure you get something at the end of it.


We're already getting a good deal from UKHE (and yes, I know that "I would say that").

In terms of research output, the Research Assessment Exercises (and now the Research Excellence Framework) have directed funding to where it has the greatest effect (with the arguable consequence of narrowing diversity within the sector, though that's for a different discussion). Success rates for grant applications from research councils are less than 20%, though not because 80% of the applications are not worth funding; I've seen proposals with excellent reviews and clear paths to impact rejected because there's insufficient money to fund all of the outstanding research, let alone the merely 'good'.

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