22 Sep 2014
In a speech delivered at a million+ and NUS co-hosted fringe at Labour Party Conference 2014 on Monday 22 September in Manchester, Professor Michael Gunn, Vice-Chancellor of Staffordshire University and chair of the university think-tank million+, will call for an assurance that Labour will restore direct funding to universities if the Party promises to lower fees. He also says that Labour needs to do more than find ‘a technical or cheap fix’ when setting out its manifesto commitments to students and universities.
Professor Gunn will be sharing the platform with the Rt. Hon. Liam Byrne MP, Shadow Universities, Science and Skills Minister, Paul Blomfield MP, Member of BIS Select Committee and Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Universities Group and NUS President Toni Pearce.
In his speech Professor Gunn reaffirms the long-term benefits of investing in higher education far outweigh the short-term costs and points out that taxpayers get on average an 11 per cent return for every £1 the government spends on the sector.
While Labour is not expected to make any announcement on fees at the Conference Professor Gunn says that a Labour government would need to restore direct grant to universities if the Party does include a promise to lower fees in its general election manifesto. In addition he points out that only 12 universities get 50% of all research funding and says that the a Labour government should deliver a research funding system that supports research in all universities for the benefits of the economy and students and set up a new fund for translational research in order to support regional growth.
While welcoming Labour’s commitment to take international students out of the migration cap, Professor Gunn says that this is only one part of the solution and calls for an urgent review of the compliance regimes operated by the UK Visa and Immigration Agency which he describes as ‘partisan, differential and opaque’.
Professor Gunn also says that the next government will need to be passionate about delivering equality of outcome and not just equality of opportunity and calls on Labour to recognise that one in three students enter university for the first time when they are over 21.
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Professor Michael Gunn, Vice-Chancellor of Staffordshire University and chair of university think-tank million+, in a speech at Labour Party Conference million+ / NUS fringe, said:
I am delighted to be sharing a Labour Party platform again with Toni from NUS and Paul Blomfield, a Member of Parliament who makes a real difference, but also for the first time with Liam Byrne in his role as Shadow Minister.
Liam - I think it’s almost 12 months since you were appointed.
Let me assure everyone here that there’s been a whirlwind of meetings, roundtables, pamphlets and stimulating discussions. Hopefully the end-result will confirm that Labour has been listening as well!
But it's not just clarity on polices that we want – although it would be useful to know sometime soon just where Labour is going on funding.
In million+ we also want a bit of passion.
We’ve had four years of students and graduates being told they have to pick up more of the tab while private colleges have been allowed to expand unregulated at taxpayers’ expense. Universities have seen significant cuts including in funding for postgraduate teaching, the Student Opportunity Allocation and capital investment.
It’s true that the science and innovation budget has been ring-fenced – but in practice this means a cut of £1.1 billion at the very time that our competitor countries are spending more on science and higher education.
And the backcloth to these reforms has been a market in which the historic esteem of some institutions (built, I should add, on decades of public funding) has been promoted over and above the earned esteem of universities which educate the majority of the nation’s graduates.
This is almost certainly not the best way of supporting a world-class university system.
So what would a Labour Government need to do to deliver for universities and students?
First, if you do lower fees you must restore direct grant to universities to at least the level that it was before 2012.
But that’s not all: this grant needs to be increased to take account of the additional students that a lower fees policy would undoubtedly attract.
And if Labour announces a change of policy in advance of the election, Labour will also need to say what would happen to students applying to enter university in 2015 under your watch.
Second, as our recent million+ report The Innovation Challenge confirms, by 2012, 25 per cent of the UK’s total recurrent research funding provided by taxpayers was allocated to five universities while fifty per cent went to just twelve institutions.
Funding excellent research is one thing but hyper-concentration is entirely different. It limits talent, undermines innovation, under-values research in the social sciences, the arts and the creative industries in which Britain is a world-leader but it also creates huge inequity in the unit of resource for students and they deserve a better research funding deal.
Labour must deliver more balanced research funding, set up a new stream of funding for translational research and ensure that all universities are funded for research infrastructure. This would also help address imbalances in regional growth.
Third, we welcome Labour’s commitment to take international students out of the net migration figures but this is only part of the solution.
And let me be crystal clear here: the compliance regime being applied to universities and education providers by UKVI – the Visa and Immigration agency – is partisan, differential and opaque. A Labour government would also need to review this as a matter of urgency.
Finally- let me return to the question of passion. I and my other colleagues who find the research and analysis provided by million+ invaluable, will need to know that Labour’s sums add-up but we also want to be assured that Labour is looking for more than a technical or a cheap fix.
For every £1 the government spends on higher education, taxpayers get on average, an 11 per cent return. You can’t really do much better than that. The reality is that the long-term benefits of investing in higher education far outweigh the short-term costs.
This is why we want Labour to be passionate about promoting all of our universities; when one in three students now enter university when they are over 21, we need you to be as committed as we are to ensuring that university is not just for young people.
And if you do want to deliver not just for the students and universities of today but also the graduates and businesses of tomorrow, we also need Labour to move on from the agenda of equality of opportunity and to be as passionate as we are about equality of outcome.
Professor Gunn will be speaking at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham on Tuesday 30 September 2014, 12.30 - 14.00. (Follow Professor Gunn on twitter @StaffsUniVC)
Notes to Editors
1. For further information or to arrange interviews with Professor Michael Gunn, contact Rochelle Owusu- Antwi, Press and Communications officer: email@example.com| 02077171658 | 07527 336795
2. million+ is a leading university think-tank. More information can be found at www.millionplus.ac.uk
3. The full million+ report ‘The Innovation Challenge: A new approach to research funding' can be found here