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NUS Scotland responds to Audit Scotland’s higher education review

Thursday 07-07-2016 - 09:43

NUS Scotland has responded to a review of the Scottish higher education sector by Audit Scotland, released today (Thursday), by reiterating the need to prioritise funding for widening access to higher education, and student support.

The review – the first one of universities undertaken by Audit Scotland  - examined the financial state of Scotland’s university sector, as well as examining the student population in Scotland – including student numbers, debt and application rate. 

Key findings of the report included:

•    Scottish Government provided £1.7 billion to the higher education sector in 2014/15, through teaching grants and student support, and, overall, the Scottish higher education sector was in good financial health in 2014/15. 
•    University income has grown by 38% over the last decade, in real terms. Universities as a whole had income of £3.5 billion in 2014/15, and generated a surplus of £146 million; though there are “underlying risks” and “future uncertainty” within the sector. 
•    The report recommends that Scottish Government should: “Ensure future decisions on levels of funding for higher education, and the areas funded, fully support its longer-term higher education policy ambitions.” 

Commenting, NUS Scotland president Vonnie Sandlan said:
“This is a really welcome report from Audit Scotland, providing an important snapshot of the state of the higher education sector in Scotland. The report highlights how the university sector is, rightly, in receipt of well over a billion pounds of public funding and emphasises the important role universities can, and must, play in ensuring genuine public benefit for that level of public funding, not least through widening access. The report emphasises the leading universities we have and the excellent outcomes they deliver for our students – but only those able to access one of the precious places currently available. 
 
“NUS Scotland, Universities Scotland, and UCU Scotland are all united around a common cause of the need for our universities to be funded through strong, sustainable and public investment. This report, however, raises the need for that funding to fully support our ambitions for higher education, and ensure that the quality or experience for students doesn’t suffer. We know that education is a public good, and that universities can play a transformative role in people’s lives – it’s crucial that opportunity is available to all, with the necessary funding to achieve it. At the same time, ensuring the necessary public funding doesn’t mean we shouldn’t then questions our universities to ensure that funding is then spent in the most impactful way possible – income has risen by 38% over the last decade, and reserves stand at £2.5 billion. Students deserve to know how that money has been, and will be, spent, and what it’s meant for them and their learning experience.  
 
“We’ve seen some great progress made in widening access in recent years, and it was really positive to see the Scottish Government recently commit to implement the recommendations of the Commission on Widening Access in full. Those recommendations included some bold and ambitious targets for widening access, targets that we cannot afford to shy away from. Audit Scotland are right to recommended the need for government to ensure public funding fully supports those ambitions and priorities – not least ensuring the opportunities that students from our most disadvantaged communities deserve. And with that, we must also ensure the necessary financial support those students need to not just access education, but stay there and reach their full potential. Those are all messages that NUS Scotland will be making loudly, as we approach the upcoming Scottish spending review.”
… Ends

Notes:

1. A copy of the Audit Scotland report and press release is available here.

Contact: Fergus Boden, NUS Scotland Press and Influencing Officer 
fergus.boden@nus-scotland.org.uk

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