London Higher calls for rethink on London weighting removal

London Higher has today urged Government to think again about re-allocating the Teaching grant at a time when universities need it most following the release of research in support of maintaining the London weighting, following a consultation released by the Office for Students (OfS)

The London Weighting element of the Teaching grant – since renamed by Government as the Strategic Priorities Grant – reflects the higher costs of delivery in London. It is intended to create a level playing field across higher education institutions (HEIs) in England to offset the higher costs of operating in the capital, where wages are already higher than elsewhere in the country due to market forces and universities are contractually obliged to pay a London allowance to staff, similar to in local government and healthcare.

The report finds that;

  • Some London boroughs are among the most deprived areas of the country, with a third of London boroughs in the 30% most deprived areas in England;
  • London’s HEIs face unavoidable higher costs of staffing and buildings, with more than the average 55% of total HEI expenditure going towards staff costs;
  • The London HEIs that will be hardest hit can least afford it, with the removal of the London Weighting resulting in a funding shortfall across London of around £64m (-13.7%);
  • HEIs in London which train key workers are set to be particularly affected by the proposals, with some health HE courses in the capital already loss-making – so, removing the London Weighting will make them even less viable;
  • Not all of Londons’ HEIs gain from international students, with five London HEIs accounting for around half of all international students in the capital;
  • Removing funding at short notice will have an impact on students, with less money per student to provide the good quality student experience expected from HEIs; and
  • Levelling down London is not the way to equalise economic performance across the regions, with the proposal to take funds away from London’s HEIs and spread them across the country – some to areas and providers which are already relatively well off – not the way to achieve genuine levelling-up.

Commenting on the report, CEO of London Higher, Dr Diana Beech said;

“This report makes clear the case for maintaining the current levels of funding for the capitals’ universities. With additional costs, from wages to unit price, the cost of delivery in London is considerably higher than elsewhere in the UK. This additional pressure, at short notice, will not only cause issues such as difficulties in recruitment, staff morale, higher staff turnover and worsening facilities on campus, but threaten widening participation goals if student support is affected.

We urge Government to think again about re-allocating this funding at a time when we need a strong capital to lead our post-Covid recovery and uphold the UK’s status as a quality global study destination of choice”.

Professor Sir Paul Curran, President of City, University of London and Chair of the London Higher London Weighting group said;

“There is no city in the world with a greater diversity of world-leading universities than London. The Secretary of State for Education has decided that in support of the national ‘levelling-up’ agenda, and despite the exceptionally high costs of operating in London, the capital’s great universities are to be ‘levelled-down’.

“From September, the teaching grant for London universities is to be cut by an average of 14 per cent and the resulting £64million redistributed around the country. This cut will add to the pressure on universities in the capital as they strive to continue to deliver world-class education for our young people and contribute to the national post-pandemic recovery.”

On London’s boroughs, Professor Frances Corner, Warden of Goldsmiths, University of London said:

“Cutting this funding is reckless postcode politics that will hurt some of England’s poorest areas, including our home borough of Lewisham.

“Universities bring huge benefits to deprived areas: our activities generate £91 million for Lewisham and support 2,500 jobs in the borough. These changes could cost us £2m in funding every year, only making it more difficult for us to help our local community recover from Covid-19.”

On Leveling up, Professor Nic Beech, Vice-Chancellor of University of Middlesex said;

“Universities like Middlesex are an engine for levelling up. Over half of our students were eligible for free school meals, the highest proportion in any UK university, and they go on to make a significant difference with 1 in 7 of our graduates going on to become entrepreneurs. They have the drive and creativity to develop new businesses and agile ways of working. We also train tomorrow’s nurses, teachers and social workers. As London and the rest of the country start to emerge from lockdown these students will play a key role in the recovery and therefore it seems a very strange time to be taking away the fuel from the engine that really works.

“I would urge the Government to rethink and take an approach with more precision. A broad brush approach misses the true picture of the people who come from areas that deserve support and who will make a difference. Look at the impact of universities like Middlesex on widening participation and social mobility and work with us to find solutions.”

On the impact on students, Professor Jane Harrington, Vice-Chancellor of Greenwich University, said;

“Many of our students come from the most deprived boroughs of London, more than 52 per cent are from BAME communities, over 70 percent live at home as they study, and over 56 per cent are the first in their family to go a university. The significant reduction to our budget means that we will have less money to continue to support our students and future graduates at a time when they need it most. “

On training Healthcare professionals, Professor Jenny Higham, Principal of St. George’s, University of London said;

“As a specialist provider, our ability to support and develop the next generation of healthcare professionals and scientists will be severely hampered by this change, which will result in a recurrent annual loss of £1.7 million. We, like many specialist institutions, operate on small margins and this deficit will have a massive impact on our small surplus, reducing the investment we can make in our essential education facilities.”

The report can be accessed on our website.