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12 October 2010
"The last Government took £400 million out of university budgets." Professor Steve Smith, President of Universities UK, Daily Politics Background The release of Lord Browne's keenly-anticipated review of Higher Education funding, which recommended increasing student tuition fees, has sparked heated debate this afternoon in the Commons, with Business Secretary Vince Cable adding his voice those accusing the previous Labour administration of planning cuts of their own to University budgets. However the BBC reported before the election that University funding had grown by eight per cent this year. So is Steve Smith, President of the Higher Education pressure group Universities UK, right to point to a £400 million reduction of spending in this area during Labour's years in power? Analysis Professor Smith's claim refers to the cuts to research council, university and college funding announced in the previous Government's penultimate Budget, which came into effect in April 2010. It is therefore fair to point to a one-off fall in Government spending introduced in the last days of Labour's tenure. But is this clear from the claim statement made by Professor Smith? By phrasing his claim as he does, Professor Smith could be seen to imply a reduction in spending on universities across all Labour's years in Government. As we have previously noted on the issue of child poverty, the quoting of one-off falls do not always give a full picture of an administration's record. So in what context should Professor Smith's remarks be placed? Between 1997 and 2010, funding allocated through HEFCE grew from £3.21 billion to £7.36 billion (£3.2 billion to £5.9 billion in real terms). Total funding received by Higher Education institutions similarly rose from £11.6 billion in 1997 to £25.4 billion in 2008, the latest date for which figures are available (a real terms rise from £11.6 billion to £21.6 billion). If we define "the last Government" as that which was in office over the course of the last Parliament between the General Elections of 2005 and 2010, there remained a slight rise in HEFCE funding. In 2005 the HEFCE allocated £6.33 billion of in grants, which had risen to £7.36 billion in 2010 (in real terms, the increase was some £200 million). As Lord Browne notes himself in his review, this contrasts with a period of declining investment in Higher Education students during the early and mid-1990s. Conclusion So whilst it is undoubtedly true to identify a £400 million cut in university funding announced in March 2009, it is important not to conflate this with "the last Government" as a whole, which oversaw a growth in real terms investment in Higher Education.
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