The Scottish Government’s annual budget has announced cuts to university education, prompting concerns from those in the sector.
The Scottish government’s most recent budget contains a £48.5 million reduction in funding for Scottish university education, constituting an almost 6% cut excluding inflation. This has led universities across Scotland to reconsider their financially challenged course offerings. In total, funding for higher education teaching in Scotland has decreased by 19% since the 2014-15 academic year, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
These budget reductions are accompanied by a new £2,400 special support loan for Scottish students, along with a 13.5% escalation in the payback threshold. Graduates will now commence repaying their student loans only once their earnings surpass £31,395.
The mixed news on financial adjustments prompted the National Union of Students in Scotland (NUS) to criticise the budget cuts for “undermining the welcome boost in student support.” NUS Scotland President Ellie Gomersall labelled the monetary cuts “disastrous” and expressed disappointment at the absence of long-term funding for student mental health.
The Universities and College Union (UCU) Scotland expressed concern over the substantial cuts to university and college funding, particularly at a time when job security and course viability are already under threat. According to the union, “It’s really worrying to see these significant cuts to university and college funding at a time when we’re already seeing jobs on the line and courses under threat.”
Echoing this sentiment, Universities Scotland, an organisation representing university Directors and Principals, stated that the budget cuts would force them to make “inescapably hard choices,” potentially leaving teaching positions vacant.
Despite the cuts coinciding with a 4.7% boost in capital budget, covering research, innovation and buildings, the convener for Universities Scotland and Principal of the University of Dundee, Ian Gillespie, has further stated that funding cuts overall will “leave universities exposed on multiple fronts”.
These financial constraints coincide with the University of Aberdeen’s plans to eliminate single language degrees, resulting in severe backlash. Over 15,000 individuals, including students, staff, and the wider public, have signed a petition against the university’s decision. According to the petition, this move could potentially lead to over 50% job losses in the languages department.
The forthcoming year’s budget will also feature a 3.8% decrease in funding for Gaelic teaching, exacerbating underfunding for Gaelic language degrees.
These financial constraints in education occur against the backdrop of a contentious freeze in council tax rates, partially funded by a new 45p rate on earners above £75,000 and a 1p rise for earners above £125,000.