Poll reveals huge public support for investment in higher education

90 per cent of the public think that "it was important for the Government to invest in UK universities". 4-in-5 believe that investment should rise or stay the same.

A new study by Ipsos-MORI for Universities UK reveals that 90 per cent of the British public think that “it was important for the Government to invest in UK universities”.

The University and College Union (UCU) said the poll reinforced the position that investment is the only way the UK will continue to operate as a global leader in higher education.

Last week, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that Britain invests less money in universities than other OECD countries – just 1.3 per cent of GDP, compared to the average 1.5 per cent.

The research found that four-in-five people thought Government funding for Higher Education should “increase or stay the same”; 89 per cent agreed that universities contribute to advances in science, technology and healthcare. These findings come days after higher education minister, David Willetts, announced a cut in the funding to scientific research in the Government’s austerity drive.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said:

“We all benefit from higher education, whether we study at university or not, and I am pleased, although perhaps not surprised, that the public recognises this.

“We need to invest in our universities in order to secure the country’s future and that requires a proper debate on university funding.”

As Left Foot Forward reported last week, the number of graduates that Britain produces has slumped from third to 15th in the OECD in less than a decade. The same OECD report revealed that those with higher levels of education suffered less from the recession. Young people with low levels of education were hit the hardest; with unemployment rates rising by almost five percentage points between 2008 and 2009.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said:

“With the worldwide recession continuing to weigh on employment levels, education is an essential investment for responding to the changes in technology and demographics that are re-shaping labour markets.

Last winter, universities were warned that funding for institutions would be under the axe when Peter Mandelson, then businesses secretary, announced that ‘efficiency savings’ worth £398 million would be made during 2010-11.

The university funding review, conducted by Lord Browne, is expected to advise the Government to raise the amount in tuition-fees paid by students. But research published by the Social Market Foundation think tank showed that raising the cap to £7,000 could cost the Government up to £1.3 billion per year under current arrangements.

In another poll conducted by Populus this week, three in four voters said they disagree with the Coalition’s handling of the economy thus far. The Comprehensive Spending Review report on the 20 October will report how much funding is being cut from the research and education budgets. Without the backing of the public, the Government could have a turbulent ride in its austerity drive.

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