THE CHAIRMAN of NHS England Malcolm Grant has spoken out against the Conservative government’s ongoing line of austerity, claiming it will have a negative effect on how universities are funded.
He made the claims prior to his inauguration as the University of York’s new Chancellor, telling Nouse that he believes “continued economic austerity will not be favourable to university funding” and also that “the current tuition fee model is going to have to be revisited”.
Professor Sir Grant, who was formerly inaugurated two weeks ago, also weighed in on the debate surrounding Britain’s membership of the EU. He told Nouse that “the possibility of Britain leaving the EU is a major threat for research funding and also to the flow of international students.”
“It often sounds trite to say it, but we still have one of the finest higher education systems in the world, though not the most richly funded,” the Cambridge alumnus told Nouse in the feature length interview. “In research in particular, measured both in terms of excellence and value for money, we are world leaders.
“But things are going to be difficult. The current tuition fee model is going to have to be revisited; continued economic austerity will not be favourable to university funding.”
This is not the first time that Sir Malcolm has spoken out about the dangers of government cuts to university finances. During his time as chairman of the Russell Group of universities, Grant criticised cuts by the government to research funding that he claimed would “prevent hundreds of PhD students from embarking on pioneering research”.
Former Director-General of the BBC and Chairman of the FA Greg Dyke, Grant’s predecessor as Chancellor, also questioned the current model of how university tuition is paid in recent comments to Nouse. He opposed the introduction of of the £9,000 fee contribution, and claims to be “one of the few people at the University” who did so.
In 2011, Grant supported the removal of the £3000 cap on tuition fee contribution “subject to safeguards to protect less well-off students” and subsequently prompted the tabling by students of a Vote Of No Confidence in his presidency at University College London. It is not completely clear what his new comments about “revisiting” the tuition fee model allude to in terms of fee contribution.
His divisive words may be surprising after his controversial inauguration as Chancellor last month.
The role of Chancellor is considered a broadly ceremonial one, whose main duty is chairing the Court of the University of York, a representative body of ‘ambassadors and friends’ according to the University website.
His willingness to speak out about political issues affecting the funding of university and tuition fees may point to a desire to be a more hands-on kind of Chancellor. “I have the benefit of having headed up a university myself, and this experience will come in useful as I get closely engaged with academics and students at York,” Grant told Nouse.
Sir Malcolm was knighted in 2013 for his services to higher education. During his time as President and Provost of UCL, he launched ‘The Campaign for UCL’, a fundraising project tasked with generating £300mn for facilities and research initiatives, of which £50mn went towards funding student bursaries, scholarships and post doctoral study.