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Universities

Oral Answers to Questions — Business, Innovation and Skills – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 10th April 2014.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield 9:30 am, 10th April 2014

What steps he is taking to ensure that universities remain financially sustainable in the long term.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

Our higher education reforms have increased university income and reduced costs to taxpayers. In 2011, universities received £7.9 billion of income for teaching. Next year, they will receive £9.9 billion. Universities are now well funded, on a sustainable basis for the long term.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

The Minister will be surprised to hear that I do not agree with relative complacency. I am a member of the Higher Education Commission and we are taking evidence on the long-term financial viability of our higher education sector. Time and time again, the Higher Education Policy Institute, the vice-chancellors, Lord Baker, Charles Clarke and everyone else who gives evidence to the commission say there is a serious, deep problem. We are not getting any British post-graduates as a result of the £9,000 a year. Something is deeply wrong. Will the Minister act before it is too late?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

We now have record numbers of people applying to university. The funding is going to the courses that students choose. We are getting rid of controls on numbers of students. This system is financed by graduates—not students, but graduates—paying money back. That is the right way to finance our higher education. It is the system that all three parties have ended up proposing when they had to confront the realities of financing higher education. It is the right way forward for our young people.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

Universities in Scotland—in Edinburgh, in particular—contribute substantially to the UK’s research community, as most spectacularly exemplified recently by Professor Higgs. At the same time, universities in Scotland receive 15% of UK research funding, as is right and proper given their achievements. Would it not be a tragedy if that support and co-operation were put at risk by Scotland becoming independent from the rest of the UK?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Although Scotland has about 8% of the nation’s GDP, it gets about 15% of the public research income that is allocated across institutions, because of the excellence of the research in institutions in Scotland. That works to the advantage of Scotland and to the advantage of the entire United Kingdom, and that is why we are better off together.