Russell Group Universities propose an increase to their government funding

Jeanine Raw

The ‘Jewels in the Crown’ report, led by the Russell Group, suggests that its universities need concentrated funding if they will be able to continue to stand out as contributors to the global education market.

The report by the country’s leading universities suggests that competitors to the UK’s higher education are increasing the funding they allocate to their best performing universities, and claims that this has left UK universities lacking in resources in comparison.

The Group’s universities monopolise the UK league tables every year, but are slipping in the global reputation tables.

The 24 UK universities that make up the Russell group, including the University of Glasgow, are allocated 80% of the funding given to higher education, despite representing only 20%.

But the report claims that this is still not enough to protect the world-class status of its prestigious universities, even despite the recent implementation of £9000 fees. World-leading institutions are described in the report as those with high concentrations of talent in the student body and in the faculty, a comprehensive learning environment and favourable governance.

The report suggests that this is because their competitors are receiving a larger allocation of government funding focussed on their top performing universities. The report quotes research that suggests that there will be an increase in private funding if there is an increase in public funding.

Their proposition disregards the other 85 universities in the UK and leaves them with about 10% of the higher education funding. Collaboration between smaller or less research intensive universities and the Russell Group is encouraged so that they can both benefit from talented researchers.

The proposal has been likened to the US system, where students can chose between research and community colleges. They claim that this creates ‘diversity’ within the education system and the line drawn is simply because more focussed needs to be placed on the universities that have a proven record of outstanding performance.

They claim that students are able to choose between the type of education that they’d want to achieve and to help employers easily differentiate between the students that are ‘most suited’ to their interests.

UK universities have made an estimated £31 billion contribution to the country’s GDP, which the report tentatively linked to the performance of the UK’s top universities, as is the high proportion of international students that the UK welcomes every year.

However, there is no mention of international students attending any of the newer universities or subject-focussed universities like the Scottish Royal Conservatoire.

As an aside, it briefly mentions how the students will benefit from their proposed changes – access to world leading researches, exceptional teaching facilities and good graduate prospectus are mentioned. The report notes undergraduates in employment or full time education 6 months after their degree as 88%.

As a Russell Group member, the University of Glasgow has a 94.9% level of graduate prospects, whereas non-Russell Group Scottish university Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen is first in the UK – with a 97.1% prospect.

It is unclear as to what effect this would have on the already very concentrated UK education sector. But it is proving controversial across the board, with questions about the access that students will have lecturers who are at the forefront of cutting edge research.