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Next year, the Scottish Government will again invest more than £1 billion in our higher education sector; indeed, it will be the fifth year in succession in which investment has exceeded that figure. We engaged closely with university principals in the lead-up to the draft budget, and we will continue to work with the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council and the HE sector to secure greater efficiencies, maintain benefits for learners and ensure that core outcomes remain the priority.
That answer is surprising, given that a number of universities face indicative funding cuts of as much as 3.9 per cent in the coming year. Has the cabinet secretary done any impact assessment at all on those numbers? She will be aware of the fact that Robert Gordon University, for example, is seeking 100 redundancies and of the programme of redundancies at the University of Aberdeen and elsewhere. Will she undertake an assessment of the impact of the cuts on teaching and research staff and on the quality of teaching and research at our universities?
As I indicated to Mr Macdonald in my original answer, we have an on-going dialogue with the HE sector and the funding council. Of course, the prospect of any job losses or redundancies at any time in any sector is deeply regrettable.
Universities are autonomous institutions, as we have debated to a great extent in the chamber. I expect them to work closely with trade unions to ensure that all staff are fully aware of the reasons behind decisions, in order to minimise the impact on students.
I will end with a quote from Professor Downes, who wrote to the Deputy First Minister on 23 February to say:
“I have now seen SFC’s announcement of indicative institutional allocations. This is still a challenging outcome in challenging times, but Universities Scotland members will recognise it as a significantly better outcome for institutions than what was being discussed in January. I am grateful to you and Ms Constance for the work done to achieve this.”