UCU report highlights education funding differences across the UK

29 May 2014 | last updated: 10 December 2015

A report from UCU has highlighted the effect that devolution is having on outcomes for post-compulsory education in different parts of the UK.

It shows that the governments in Northern Ireland and Scotland spend significantly more on higher education (HE) than they do on further education (FE), while FE receives the greater share of funding in Wales.

The union said that this funding disparity, as well as different policies on tuition fees and student support, was contributing to a range of different outcomes.

The report, launched today at the union's annual Congress, includes an analysis from HM Treasury of relative spending on further and higher education by each of the devolved nations. It also includes information about qualification levels and performance on widening participation measures. Key findings from the report include:

  • Scotland has the highest percentage (14.4%) of people with an HE qualification below degree level (UK average= 8.9%)
  • However, Scotland has the lowest percentage of university entrants from the lower socio-economic backgrounds (26.2%). Northern Ireland has the highest percentage (38%), and it also has the highest percentage of HE entrants from state schools (99.1%)
  • in Northern Ireland, where relative spending on HE is highest, the percentage of people with no qualifications (18.4%) is almost twice that of anywhere else in the UK (UK average= 9.9%)
  • Northern Ireland also has the lowest percentage (19.8%) of people with a first degree or equivalent in the UK, and England has the highest (26.1%) (UK average= 25.6%)
  • Wales is the only part of the UK where more is spent on FE than HE, and reports the highest overall percentage (48.5%) of people with either a level 2 or level 3 qualification (UK average= 45.9%)
  • in all parts of the UK, those aged 25-29 are at least 40% more likely to hold a degree than the working-age population as a whole

In response to the report's findings, UCU has devised a series of questions** which will act as a basic test for new initiatives. The questions look at whether proposals are fair for all students regardless of their age and circumstances; able to attract and retain strong and stable staff bodies; and able to ensure a system which offers the broadest possible choice of courses. The union will be using these 'six tests' as a framework for assessing whether current and emerging policies are beneficial for the sector.

 UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Devolution has allowed each nation to develop its own strategy for post-compulsory education, responding to the different needs and aspirations across the UK. While there are undoubted benefits to this approach, there is a real need for us to learn from each other if we are to provide the best future for students and educators alike.

'The six tests will help us to assess each new policy and funding initiative in a constructive and even-handed way. These are the big questions that we should all be asking if we want to create fairer and more sustainable post-compulsory education systems.'

*The 'six tests' to be applied to any policy/funding initiative are as follows:

  • Will the proposal make it easier for people to reach their full potential?
  • Will the proposal increase our academic capacity and research base?
  • Will the proposal make the UK a more attractive place for academic staff to work?
  • Will the proposal make it less costly for individuals to study, whether young or old?
  • Will the proposal broaden the range of subjects available for study?
  • Will the proposal lead to higher quality and reduced fragmentation in the sector?

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