Y'know how everyone hated it when tuition fees went up? Cutting them now could harm science, say UK Lords

STEM subjects already lose universities £1,400 per student

Funding for scientific research could be in jeopardy if the UK government implements plans to cap tuition fees, peers have warned.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report into higher education funding said the government should make up the shortfall if it cuts the maximum tuition fees to £7,500 per year from £9,250 at present.

That is the current proposal under the Augar Review into post-18 education and funding, intended to address the escalating costs of university education.

However, Lord Patel, chair of the committee, said: "The Augar Review has completely missed the mark by not considering research funding... By ignoring research and cross-subsidies, it has made recommendations which, if implemented, could prove harmful to the already challenging ecosystem of university funding.

"Without adequate research funding, the consequences for the UK will be devastating and the UK risks falling behind other countries. The government intends to spend 2.4 per cent GDP on research and development by 2027, but we conclude that it will be extremely difficult to meet this target unless funding for research in universities is secured and the UK can attract researchers from overseas."

Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, told the committee that the Augar Review's recommendations could exacerbate existing financial strains.

He said most Russell Group universities already make a loss of about £1,400 per student in science, technology and engineering subjects.

"If you cut the fee again, that puts an even bigger hole in the teaching of STEM subjects. The top-up grants that you would need from Augar are substantially more than just the gap from £9,250 down to £7,500. They would need to make up the additional deficit that we are already carrying on those subjects."

The committee also noted that retaining the mobility of researchers after Brexit will be vital to ensuring the UK can continue to attract the best and meet its research and development goals.

"The government must ensure post-Brexit immigration laws do not hinder the ability of UK universities to recruit and retain the scientific staff they require, including technicians earning below the recommended salary threshold," it said.

The government should ensure that once the UK has left the EU the level of funding the UK currently receives from the EU for research is matched in full, it added. "As the UK is a net beneficiary of EU research funding this amount will be greater than the amount the UK currently contributes to the EU research pot." ®

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