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Cutting research funding would advance UK's decline as academic world power, warns union

9 September 2010 | last updated: 11 December 2015

UCU today called on the universities minister, David Willetts, to use today's keynote speech at the Universities UK conference to reaffirm his and the coalition government's commitment to research.

The union warned that the UK would no longer be able to compete globally if research funding was removed at the same time as competitor countries increased investment.
The business secretary, Vince Cable, yesterday signalled a squeeze on public finding for science and research, despite the fact that the £3.5bn-a-year currently spent on publicly-funded research generates an additional annual output of £45 billion in UK companies (see here).
UCU warned that a policy of cutting research funding would only advance the decline of the UK as an academic world power. The union said Vince Cable misunderstood what the UK was already offering if he honestly expected 'more for less'. With just 1% of the global population, the UK produces 7.9% of the world's research publications and 12% of all citations.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'A policy of cutting research funding can only advance the decline of the UK as an academic world power. The UK delivers world-class research on a scale not matched anywhere else on the planet on a pound-for-pound basis.
'We are already punching above our weight. Other countries around the world are investing in universities and their research departments. We will not be able to continue to compete if we are up against countries with bigger budgets and proper political support.'
UCU also warned against the automatic embracing of for-profit universities. The union highlighted a number of scandals currently rocking the for-profit sector in America as it called warned of a risk to excellence in teaching and research.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Just because the for-profit university sector is becoming globally significant, does not make it something we should automatically embrace as a good thing. When David Willetts describes for-profits as having 'freedom from the weight of history', he is presumably referring to the absence of many of the institutions, practices and regulations that govern the publicly subsidised university sector and ensure that they produce genuinely excellent teaching and research.
'What the for-profit universities do possess is a commitment to their shareholders to make a profit, a commitment only made greater if their shareholders include private equity firms. In a world where young people are being locked out of the higher education system by slashes to government funding, our legitimate concern is that UK students will fall prey to the kind of mis-selling and profiteering scandals currently rocking the for-profit university sector in the United States, including the owners of BPP University College.'