Hot Debate - University Funding And How It Might Affect Your Job

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In 2012-13 students will arrive at UK universities having to cope with different funding arrangements from their predecessors. This article will explore the impact this will have on staff and jobseeking.

What does the government propose?

The government sets out its proposals for the future of UK Higher Education in its white paper entitled ‘Students at the Heart of the System’. Central to the proposal is that universities will no longer be funded by a direct grant from HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) and will instead be funded by grants and bursaries from government to be repaid by students later in life. Certain subject areas such as Science, Engineering and Medicine (known as the STEM subjects) will continue to receive direct government funding.

What has been the response of students and university staff?

This change has been very controversial, partly because the rapid timetable for change has left staff little time to put together a coherent response and lobby for the introduction of improvements or alterations. Those teaching in areas outside the STEM subjects see this as the withdrawal of government support from their disciplines, reflecting a lack of interest and prioritisation in those areas.

The confusion over the fees regime has also left many young people and their parents in a state of confusion. Many have been left believing that they will have to pay for their university education in a lump sum, up front, whereas this is not the case. In some cases the rate of paying back loans will be lower than currently, and in many cases, students will never pay back the full amount of their loans, but the publicity and political wrangling surrounding the debate over this issue has left many applicants fearing that they will not afford the expense of university under the new arrangements.

What impact will this debate have on the academic job seeker

It is imperative that the academic job seeker is aware of this and other similar debates when he or she is looking for a job as it will impress the interview panel. Candidates shouldn’t come across as too opinionated in case of alienating potential future colleagues.

University departments and faculties run their budgets in very different ways so the funding for staff salaries come from different places. However, in terms of overall job security, it is obvious that student fees are a key part of income. In some universities, such as the post-1992 group, it is undergraduate fees that bring in the most money, while at other more research-driven institutions postgraduate and overseas student fees are central.

Many departments are anticipating a significant drop in applications in the coming academic year because of people’s fears over the cost of education. If this happens, hiring may be put on hold, and in severe cases those currently in employment might find their position threatened.

According to the government’s white paper, improving student knowledge about the sector to allow more ‘customer’ choice is a vital part of this process. This is behind the development of transparent statistical information on the success of certain universities and also the variable fees regime, allowing students and their parents to be discriminating in a lively education market.

So this means that it is up to universities, departments and individual staff members to ensure these ‘customers’ are kept happy by improving their overall student experience. It is also vital to improve admissions procedures to ensure that students keep coming to university year after year. If student numbers are maintained departments can justify their requests for new staff.

In many places, applications have not decreased in line with the most pessimistic forecasts, so at the moment students are certainly not being put off from applying to attend university by the spectre of student debt. The impact of the change in the fees regime on hiring patterns and academic job seeking will only be known in the year 2012-13.

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