The news that more than £21 million has been cut from the higher education budget is a challenge both to Scotland’s universities as well as to its academics, whose research has bolstered the reputations of the sector. The fact that the decision has come just weeks after almost a third of Scottish university research output was ranked among the best in the world, sticks in the craw.
A recent survey concluded that Scotland’s university research was considered to have an “outstanding impact on wider society and the economy.” Indeed, for every £1 of public money invested in the University, St Andrews returns more than £12 to the Scottish economy. The benefits vastly outweigh the costs.
It is concerning that the Scottish government has then chosen to spread research funding more thinly, rather than capitalise on the value of university research, which not only enriches Scotland’s economy, but also its society and culture. Poorer universities will only serve to enfeeble Scotland as a nation and a people.
As The Saint reports today, the University is seeking to address the shortfall with a “moderate, controlled growth in student numbers (largely those from overseas domiciles).”
International fees are currently £16,230 and are projected to rise to almost £19,000 in 2017. The proposals can be seen as nothing other than a bid to recast international students as cash cows, whose principal purpose is to provide much-needed cash. What this will mean for the number of incoming Scottish students remains unclear.
Student representatives have heaped opprobrium on the plans. One forthright Student Representative Council (SRC) member branded the plans “disgusting” and “pathetic” while Students’ Association president, Pat Mathewson, accused the University of “killing the goose that lays the golden egg.”
The University, for their part, has vowed to respond to the tough economic demands while “seeking to safeguard and enrich the unique St Andrews experience.” Yet, any increase in student numbers is cause for concern.
The University’s website states that, “being a small university, students have a real chance to integrate and to feel a sense of belonging.” St Andrews’ unique quaintness, its three streets and 7,000 students, is one of its ultimate selling points and the basis for what the University calls the ‘Student Experience.’
With 94 per cent of students declaring themselves satisfied with their education, the University ranks first in Scotland in terms of student satisfaction. It is difficult to separate this statistic from the inclusive nature of the community found here at St Andrews.
A large campus, although teeming with people, can be difficult to navigate for students. The smaller campus St Andrews students enjoy allows them to integrate, explore and create their own identities. Here, students need not fear getting lost in the crowd.
It is clear that Scotland and St Andrews are currently facing a period of economic instability in higher education. However, in the midst of attempting to remedy its current state of finances, The Saint urges the University to remember its own poetic description of our “very special community” as one that “we must not take for granted.”
We can only hope that this sentiment is not lost in the miasma of economic difficulties.