The government’s plans to cut student fees threaten life-changing research

The Guardian is reporting that the cuts expected to be announced by the government to tuition fees next month will take a vital subsidy for science.

Everywhere you go, your life is improved by breakthroughs developed in the labs and classrooms of UK universities. Treatments for diabetes and Parkinson’s, methods used by the police to cut violent crime, the sugar tax – even digital theology that can tackle online trolling. All of these are the work of UK academics, because the UK is a research powerhouse.

A review of the funding of post-18 education, commissioned by the prime minister, is currently underway. The widely anticipated outcome is a cut in tuition fees. As you might expect, this has prompted some debate on the possible consequences for teaching, staff redundancies, and course closures. Some universities may even be forced over the brink and student places will be limited.

If a cut to tuition fees leaves big holes in teaching budgets, it’s easy to see how universities could redirect funding from research. As a result, vital R&D would have to be scaled back, to the detriment of the NHS, British industry and UK citizens.

This would be a remarkable own goal. More than half of business investment in R&D in this country comes from overseas companies moving here to work with our world-class universities. Take AstraZeneca, which is moving its global headquarters to Cambridge to be next to the university. If the research generated by our universities goes into decline, these companies will go elsewhere, taking their vital investment with them.

Some will say the way to plug future funding gaps is by recruiting more international students who pay higher fees. But these students are not a cash cow. They enrich our learning and boost the UK’s global partnerships, but we can’t expect them to prop up teaching and research budgets. In any case this wouldn’t be sustainable: numbers fluctuate from year to year and there is intense and growing global competition for international students. 

Read more here The government’s plans to cut student fees threaten life-changing research

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Emma

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