It has become increasingly difficult for Britain’s most prestigious universities to maintain financial stability. While on the one hand the country’s top educational institutions such as Oxford University have retained the global crown in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023 list, the prestige of a few major universities has masked a crumbling model of UK higher education .
Many universities in the UK are hit by funding and staff strikes. Bloomberg news agency reported that 70,000 people at 150 universities protested against falling wages, pension cuts and poor working conditions last month. At the same time, the British government has suggested capping the number of foreign students.
According to data from the Bureau for Statistics of Higher Education, by the end of the 2021 academic year, almost 30 percent of the 274 universities and colleges already had a shortage.
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Even the Russell Group, 24 top institutions including Oxford and Cambridge, told a parliamentary committee earlier this year that the government needed to step in to support funding.
On October 25, rating agency Moody’s also downgraded prominent British colleges Oxford, Cambridge, University College London and others.
The agency Bloomberg wrote that experts say a combination of Brexit and the pandemic has exacerbated the weaknesses of the grassroots backbone of the system.
Some academics believed that many actually operate as unviable “companies” that rely too heavily on students from China and India paying higher fees.
Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein told Bloomberg that Britain’s funding system is “hopelessly compromised”, “largely dependent on the money of foreign students, mainly Chinese students”.
Citing data from British universities, new enrollments from China fell for the first time last year, falling 4.9% to 99,160 students. Although enrollment in India has increased by almost 27%, the rate of growth is slowing.
The UK continues to perform above average in higher education, especially when compared to the rest of Europe. The UK has strengthened ties with Commonwealth countries since leaving the EU, the agency said.
In July 2022, the UK and India signed an agreement in July to further incentivize applicants.
However, many universities and their employees are becoming more and more desperate. The University and College Union has reported that more than half of employees showed signs of depression, with 21 percent of academics working an additional 16 hours a week on top of contract hours.
The post-Brexit financial chaos has made access to research funding more difficult. In November, the EU’s refusal to allow the UK access to international science programs forced the government to face a $591 million shortfall in funding.
Universities UK, representing 140 institutions, is calling for nationwide conversations about the financial viability of the sector. The organization says funding is expected to fall to its lowest point since the 1900s, adjusted for inflation.
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