Scotland’s universities in ‘sustained decline’ due to funding cuts

Scotland’s university sector is “a declining system under pressure” due to the pace of funding cuts, a major report published today has warned.

The Scottish Government insisted the higher education sector north of the Border remained world leading. Picture: Jane Barlow
The Scottish Government insisted the higher education sector north of the Border remained world leading. Picture: Jane Barlow

The latest Public Funding Observatory Report compares the level of public resource invested in universities in countries across Europe.

The report, produced by the European Universities Association (EUA), found funding for Scotland’s universities to be in “sustained decline” and put the country’s higher education sector in a category with Italy, the Czech Republic, and Serbia.

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The EUA found 14 European countries chose to increase levels of investment in higher education over the period 2008-2017 compared with only 11 countries which chose to cut funding.

Professor Andrea Nolan, convener of Universities Scotland, said: “For an independent report to say that Scottish higher education is a ‘declining system under pressure’ is significant both for Scottish Government and for our reputation internationally.

“If we act now, we can avoid the danger zone and move our universities, their staff and students, in a more positive long-term direction.

“Ministers need to invest in higher education as a key driver of sustainable growth, which is the approach other small, advanced economies like Norway, Sweden and Denmark have taken.”

The Scottish Government cautioned that direct comparison with higher education sectors in other countries, including some EU states, did not take account the way in which Scotland provided free tuition for eligible students, while many other countries do not.

A spokeswoman said: “Scotland has a world-class higher education sector and our universities have a long-standing reputation for being amongst the best in the world – and we are committed to ensuring this continues to be the case in the decades to come.

“This is why we are investing more than £1 billion in 2019-20 in our higher education system for the eighth consecutive year – around 40 per cent of the total university income. This provides a strong foundation for the university sector to continue to make a contribution to the wider achievement of individuals in Scotland.”