Tough decisions ahead for education and training in England

8 November 2013

The publication of an Institute for Fiscal Studies report – The Outlook for Higher Education Spending by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – provides a stark reminder of the financial challenges facing the public provision of post-19 education and training in England and the tough decisions that lie ahead.

The report notes that between the years 2010-11 and 2015-16 the total real cut in BIS resource budgets will be over 30% – with more to come. The authors work through a range of scenarios based on what is known of government priorities for fiscal consolidation (some of which are not challenged by the opposition). These show that resource spending in BIS may be expected to fall by between £1 billion and £3.1 billion (2013-14 prices) between 2015-16 and 2017-18. The challenge facing the Department is how to allocate such reductions between its four main responsibilities (further and higher education, science and research).

Funded by Universities UK, the report then focuses on higher education budgets, but notes that if HE spending were to be protected, non-HE spending would need to be cut by between 11.1% and 32.5%. And that if science and research were also protected, then the remaining BIS resource spending (primarily FE) would face a cut of between 17.4% and 60.7% over the three years to 2017-18.

The report notes that such large cuts would be challenging to achieve and that cuts in all budgets might be more likely.

Commenting on the report, NIACE Chief Executive, David Hughes, said:

“There are no easy choices here. What is shocking is the IFS calculation that, even if the government stopped protecting spending in areas such as the NHS and schools, this would save just £11billion and would still mean a cut of 13.2% to the BIS resource budget between 2014-15 and 2017-18.

“If the HE sector is having to face the possibility of reducing student numbers, of cutting teaching grants and reducing maintenance grants, then the challenges for FE are equally bleak. NIACE will continue to make the case for the protection of those adults who have been least well-served by schools and have fewest opportunities, and also for more employers to invest in learning.”