Education – More than just teaching and research
Bob Wilson, architect and immediate past Director of Estates, University of Warwick, gave a thought provoking talk on the way university education is changing in the UK. To illustrate this he used both Warwick and Glasgow, where had also been director.
His first lesson was that universities are big business. There are 164 university or degree issuing bodies in the UK. There are 2.28 million students of whom 127,000 are from the EU and 310,000 are non-EU. There are 409,000 staff. The combined universities generate £33.2 billion income annually. Of this £10.7 billion is export earnings from foreign students. Overall the economic impact to the UK economy is estimated to be £73 billion pa. Most significantly the higher education sector has been growing by 4 to 7% year on year since 1965!!
Looking ahead to Brexit, Bob made it clear why higher education is worried. It is estimated if the EU students stop coming, it could reduce income by £1 billion. This will be exacerbated if the government also put controls on numbers of visas from non-EU students as it talks of doing. This is not to mention worries over the loss of research budgets and EU Grants.
The second lesson is that these massive university budgets also correlate to the buildings where teaching and research take place. Bob’s former department at Warwick has a staff of 400 from professional to cleaning staff. It has a revenue budget of £25 million and a capital budget of £125 million. They spend £600,000 every day! This is not easy says Bob. Members laughed, thinking how they might enjoy using this daily sum to upgrade their house, have a round the world cruise and cultivate friends in high places.
Lesson three is that government funding can be fickle and it can pay to find other sources of funding. In the 1980s Warwick made a big leap forward when the Thatcher government severely cut back university funds. The university made a bold effort to tap into the private sector with great success. They received significant funds from big companies such as the Rootes Group, Smirnoff Vodka and, more recently, the Jaguar-Land Rover Tata Group. This has helped the university be innovative and nimble in order to keep growing and maintain its ranking amongst its peers.
Bob demonstrated his tactical astuteness as well. One is that you should always have a grant application ready in the back pocket, in case unexpected funds, such as end of year underspends, become available. Another is spending slightly in excess of your annual budget to ensure that your funds are maintained or enhanced in the following year. Robin Leake confirmed that Bob has used these measures beneficially in Glasgow.
Bob’s talk covered much more on universities than can be shared in this blog. However, beyond his university role, Bob moved on to talk about his involvement in the National Trust and the David Livingstone Trust. Again it’s not possible to summarise all he said in this short summary. But is worthwhile noting Bob did observe the dramatic contrast between the university budgets discussed and the shrinking funds of these modest organisations in times of austerity. Increasingly they are being pushed to downsize and innovate to survive.
This was a talk which more than fulfilled Lord Reith’s BBC tenets – to educate, inform and entertain. A fact much appreciated by members.