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OfS details £96 million of cuts amid Covid financial storm

Image: nancekievill, via Shutterstock

Student premium funding, high-cost subjects and Jisc the big losers as regulator outlines grant cuts

The Office for Students has outlined how it will carry out £96 million in savings to the end of the 2020-21 academic year. The announcement will add to sector woes at a time when universities are digesting the details of a government financial rescue package, which was met with disappointment by some.

England’s regulator will cut its recurring teaching grant by £70 million in the 2020-21 financial year, with total savings expected of £96 million. It will see money for student access and success cut by 4.8 per cent to £316 million and student premium funding for full-time and part-time undergraduates slashed by £16 million, despite instructions from education secretary Gavin Williamson to protect the student premium when he announced funding cuts in January.

Funding for high-cost subjects will be cut in real terms by 5.2 per cent, funding for higher education IT body Jisc will drop from £18 million to only £5 million and universities’ recurrent grants will be cut by 6 per cent. Budgets for nursing, midwifery and allied health teaching are protected, as is funding for Uni Connect and the disabled students’ premium.

The OfS said it would “continue to work with government to support higher education providers in managing the effects of the pandemic and, where necessary, keep our funding decisions under review” and its announcement “should be read in that context”.

Williamson announced a cut of £58 million in funding for the OfS’s recurring teaching grant in January. Given that the funding has to cover healthcare students, it represents a real-terms cut of £70 million. Universities were asked their views on how the regulator should make the cuts in a consultation earlier this year.

Savings of £26 million will be made between April and July this year by taking back unallocated funds, cutting challenge competition funding and reducing the budget for universities joining the OfS register before the end of the year.

A further £70 million of savings will be made in the 2020-21 academic year. This is needed because the OfS assumes the £70 million cut will not be replaced in the 2021-22 financial year, and so “savings for the full sum need to be made in academic year 2020-21”—bringing the total to £96 million.

Savings will be made in the 2020-21 academic year by cutting the budget for national initiatives and regulatory initiatives “as far as possible”—including slashing Jisc’s budget by £13 million—and cutting the recurring grant for universities by 6 per cent.

Cuts to Jisc’s funding are to go ahead despite a number of institutions raising concerns that reductions to Jisc’s grant “would be likely to lead to increased subscriptions from providers, and thus would not serve to reduce the requirement on providers to make savings”.

Although respondents “emphasised the adverse effects of cuts to funding for high-cost subjects”, the OfS warned that given “the scale of savings we have to make, against a background of increased student numbers, we do not consider that we can protect funding for high-cost subjects further”.

Individual allocations for universities will be sent on 12 May and published on 13 May.