Tertiary - Scotland and England on even funding terms

Comparative research finds no gap exists in HE investment between the two countries

Emma Seith

There is no funding gap between Scottish and English universities - at least for now - according to research published last week.

The study also seeks to debunk another commonly-held belief - that Scotland is suffering from an over-supply of graduates. Graduate supply has increased, but so has demand, said the researchers.

Their findings are contained in three reports on funding comparability, the relative efficiency and effectiveness of the Scottish university system, and the economic impact of Scottish universities.

They were commissioned by the Tripartite Advisory Group, set up to advise the Scottish Government on the comparability of Scottish public investment in universities with the rest of the UK and internationally.

"Anecdotal evidence on graduate unemployment is not backed up by the data, as Scottish studies reveal that the likelihood of employment steadily rises with level of education attained," the researchers said.

They found that although a portion of the graduate population were employed in jobs not regarded as graduate, they were rewarded for their education with a significant wage premium, albeit not of the same size as traditional professions.

Those who had accountancy, medicine, engineering, maths and computing degrees commanded the highest wages; lower returns were achieved for subjects such as nursing, biology and various social sciences; but the lowest wages were earned by arts graduates.

Education Secretary Michael Russell told the parliamentary education committee last week: "The main findings confirm our expectations that funding levels are broadly comparable between Scotland and England and show that, as far as international comparisons are concerned, the Scottish sector is efficient."

John Ireland, deputy director of the Scottish Government's education analytical services, who also gave evidence, said that in real terms, the funding for the English and Scottish systems had grown on roughly comparable terms. But he warned that with the publication of the Browne review and the decision in England to allow universities to charge up to pound;9,000 in tuition fees from 2012 - three times the current cap - the future would be "of course, very different".

When tuition fees were first introduced in England, the Scottish Government countered with an 18 per cent real-terms increase in university funding over three years.

Scottish universities argue that if Scottish students are to continue to attend university free of charge and the countries are to remain on an equal footing, more government investment is vital. But in response to the tight public spending anticipated, university principals have called for future funding gaps to be made up by a graduate contribution.

At present, Scottish universities receive more than 40 per cent of their funding through grants, compared with about 35 per cent south of the border, where the gap is closed by English tuition fees.

Taken together, the two sources account for 63.1 per cent and 61.6 per cent of total funding in England and Scotland respectively. Scotland, however, receives 4.3 per cent more of its funding from research than England, partly because of its focus on science and technology, which attracts higher funding than social science-based research.

Making international comparisons is complex, the report said. But it found that Scotland spent only 1.2 per cent of its GDP on higher education in 2006, less than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average of 1.3 per cent and less than Poland, Finland, Korea, Australia or Canada. But if private funding was also taken into account, the figure rose to a more respectable 1.7 per cent of GDP.

One source close to the report told The TESS: "When you benchmark Scotland's public funding against other countries', we are below average and it is only the good work of the universities that brings the field as a whole back into being internationally competitive."


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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for TES Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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