What the changes mean for you

What does Browne propose?

  • Browne recognises the wider public benefits of higher education, but advocates limited public funding for these benefits
  • He proposes the complete removal of state funding for the teaching of social sciences, arts and humanities subjects
  • Instead we are to be offered a market driven university system based upon the private individual choices of those who are able to pay independently for their education
  • Paradoxically, a teaching subsidy is to be retained precisely for those subjects for which there are high economic returns and which make a demonstrable contribution to the economy (STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine, but also to include Maths and some modern languages)
  • Browne advocates a market where students pay the costs of their education
  • This is justified as an investment in ‘human capital’ as they will derive a private benefit from that education
  • Browne proposes that the higher education sector be opened up to for-profit providers (such as BPP)
  • Degrees will be provided at lower fees in non-university contexts undermining further the idea of the university as a community serving a larger community

What this all means for you…

For British Society

The Browne report begins with a statement of the public value of higher education:

“it helps to create the knowledge, skills and values that underpin a civilised society. Higher education institutions generate and diffuse ideas, safeguard knowledge, catalyse innovation, inspire creativity, enliven culture, stimulate regional economies and strengthen civil society” (page 14)

  • The government talks about the big society but what it is introducing is the big market
  • It emphasises social mobility, but disregards the disadvantages of those who are not socially mobile
  • Other changes the government is bringing into being also make social mobility less likely rather than more likely (e.g. changes to the way that housing benefit will be paid, removing the Educational Maintenance Allowance that enables 16-19 year olds to remain in education)
  • One likely consequence is that a minority of universities will become aligned with private education in the secondary sector
  • This is a step back to the social relations of the Victorian era.

For Undergraduate Students

  • Fees are likely to rise to between £6000 and £9000 per year.
  • Browne believes that student fees will go up, but that this need have no deterrent effect on student numbers overall, nor within particular social groups.
  • Browne says that by introducing a market, the student experience will be improved by their role as consumers, but for most students the outcome is straightforward: you pay more for less
  • In Social Sciences and Humanities, students will pay double, or triple, the current level of fees and yet, at £6000, the university will receive less money for providing this education due to the removal of state funding
  • The debts for students will be much higher through this system. For those paying back the loan once they earn over £21,000, it will be at a ‘tax rate’ of 9% on all income above £21,000
    i.e. you will pay 9% in addition to the basic rate of tax of 20% up to £37,000 and then 9% + 40% on income between £37,401 – £150,000
  • There will be penalties for paying off loans early, should you find yourself able to. All interest you would have paid will have to be paid. In other words, once you have the loan, there is no way of getting out of the 9% interest rate.

For Postgraduate Students

  • The research councils will have much more constrained budgets.
  • It is likely that there will be no cut in funding for the Medical Research Council, a 10% cut for the other sciences research councils, cuts for the Economic and Social Research Council are predicted at 35% and the Arts and Humanities Research Council may be scrapped altogether and possibly amalgamated with the ESRC (these are rumours).
  • This means even fewer postgraduate funded bursaries.
  • Undertaking postraduate studies will be dependent on personal wealth.
  • With the cuts in academic staff and funding for teaching, postgraduates will be increasingly expected to take on increased teaching responsibilities.
  • The drive to increase postgraduate student numbers coupled with the decrease in staff means that you will be more likely to have a supervisor who has increased teaching responsibilities and many more PhD students to supervise.

For Academic Staff

  • You will already be aware of the climate for job opportunities. In certain subjects it is common for 100 applicants to apply for one lectureship.
  • Competition will only increase as more people are made redundant and departments have less money to hire new staff.
  • Fewer staff means increased teaching hours for individual faculty, but not necessarily increased contact time for students.
  • The drive to increase postgraduate numbers will mean that you will be asked to supervise large numbers of PhD students.
  • Good pensions are, as you read this, under threat.
  • The students that you teach are going to represent an increasingly narrow, wealthy, band of the population.

For Support Staff

  • Cuts inevitably mean job losses and poorer working conditions.
  • ‘Rationalising’ administrative support may involve redundancies.
  • Even heavier workloads are inevitable.
  1. John Lapage says:

    As the UG science faculty representative in the SU, I thought I should post some constructive criticism of the argument presented. There seems to be a perception running through this, intentional or not, that the cuts and funding are structured in a way that will protect science. This isn’t true:

    “In Social Sciences and Humanities, students will pay double, or triple, the current level of fees”
    – So will we. A rough estimate being bandied around by the university is that all students will have to pay over £7k just to break even, even with the funding.

    “Paradoxically, a teaching subsidy is to be retained precisely for those subjects for which there are high economic returns and which make a demonstrable contribution to the economy”
    – Given that there are also higher overhead costs for teaching these degrees, I fail to see the paradox. Furthermore, according to the research behind the NUS’s Broke and Broken report from last year, some scientists are below the ‘Average Degree’ mark, notably Biosciences, while those above, like Social Sciences and Business/Finance, are having their support cut. I am not arguing that perhaps there might be a perception of subsidising ‘desirable’ degrees, but I think that really the cost of teaching is a much more important factor here. In addition, academic science, which is a goal of many students at research-intensive places such as Warwick, really doesn’t pay that well, not to the point where I would call it ‘high economic returns’.

    But I think the most pertinent point is this: the worst cuts so far were pre-emptive of these announcements, and they fell in Science. When the final announcement of how many academics would be retained in the School of Life Sciences were made, it was directly stated that fears over funding were an exacerbating factor in the magnitude of losses. It’s perverse to pretend that STEM is protected when so many students are continuing to suffer from such austerity.

    Why do I bother to mention this? Well, by painting this as an arts and social sciences problem, and even somewhat implying that we scientists are complicit in these cuts, you accomplish nothing other than distancing yourself from another pool of discontented, disenfranchised individuals. It’s just not in the best interests of anyone!

    I think that this narrative that has been adopted by this website and even the SU itself (I have addressed similar complaints to the sabbs) would benefit from taking into account that all degrees will suffer from these cuts, even if some payments will still be going into the University coffers with ‘STEM Funding’ on their balance sheet. It will only strengthen support, and repair a gaping blind spot in the arguments present.


    John Lapage
    UG Science Faculty Representative
    Warwick SU

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