The potential cuts in university funding for computing degrees could be “detrimental” to the range and number of IT courses available, experts have warned.
Universities are expecting cuts of about 70 percent to their teaching budgets to be announced in the government’s Spending Review.
It follows the recently-published Browne review, in which Lord Browne of Madingley was commissioned by the government to carry out an independent review of higher education funding and student finance. In his ‘Securing a sustainable future for higher education’ report, one of his proposals included the removal of the current £3,290-a-year cap on fees.
Andrew Tuson, head of City University’s computing department, said that although ‘band D’ subjects, which include most arts and humanities subjects, have been marked as subjects that will cease to have government funding, computing, which is a band C subject, has still to learn of its fate.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen. There could be some loss of funding, but it’s too early to tell...but if there is less money overall, it will get tough,” he said.
He added that the effects of any funding cuts could include student fees increasing, more efficiency savings strategies being pursued, and “changes in services that are given”.
Tuson’s comments were supported by Andrew Gardner, operations director of recruitment specialists Reed Technology, who warned of a future skills gap.
“If these cuts become a reality, it’s likely that they will have a detrimental impact on the range, scope and number of IT and computing courses that are offered.
“With the proposed hike in tuition fees, we could also see fewer students being able to afford to study IT at an advanced level. These two factors combined could create a skills gap in our IT industry,” he said.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Intellect Technology Association wanted to remind the government that IT was crucial for helping universities cut costs.
“Whatever changes are made to the current funding model, there is no doubt that efficiencies will have to be made by universities individually and collectively. ICT Is currently at the heart of driving down the costs of running universities and will continue to be,” the spokesperson said.
Furthermore, Intellect urged the government to support STEM subjects for the benefit of the wider economy.
“We know that STEM subjects are expensive to run and teach and we have already seen budgets across these subjects cut. This will have a knock-on effect, not just on the technology industry, but on a vast array of jobs and industries in the UK that are key to driving growth and improving our international competitiveness.”
Andy Brown, global sales director at IT services and training provider FDM Group, agreed: “Many established and start-up companies in the UK are successful because of the current and future talent at their disposal. However, in the face of university cuts, the potential impact on the number and future quality of graduates is a critical factor in their decision to stay here or work abroad.”
In the face of university funding cuts, some industry experts have suggested that people looking to enter the IT industry might be encouraged to explore other educational avenues, such as apprenticeships, as an alternative.
Allan Pettman, UK managing director of IT training provider Global Knowledge, said: “What [the university funding changes] will create is a rise in people who look to substitute degree education with other learning options that they can do whilst taking a full-time role.
“It may be time for employers to look again at apprentice opportunities, allowing A-level students to work and learn to boost their end qualification, whilst helping develop talent – similar to the American model of sponsorships. At a time when spending cuts – university or otherwise- are going to affect us all, the private sector must look to shoulder some of the responsibility.”
Karen Price, CEO of sector skills body e-skills UK, also believes that apprenticeships may become more commonplace.
“Many young people may prefer a different route into IT that avoids student loans. IT apprenticeships are an increasingly popular route for aspiring IT professionals who do not wish to study full-time at university...and employers are increasingly looking to apprenticeships as an excellent way of developing the future IT workforce.”