Criticism of universities due to current politics, survey suggests

Many university leaders believe that criticism being directed at institutions is the result of current political agendas rather than problems with the higher education system, according to a poll.

It suggests that less than half of those questioned think there is any substance to the criticisms being made, although the vast majority think it is the responsibility of university chiefs to put forward solutions to issues.

The survey, which questioned 49 vice-chancellors and other heads of institutions, comes at a time when universities have found themselves under the spotlight over matters such as senior leaders' pay and value for money for students.

Those questioned were asked for their views on "negative comments on university costs and student funding" made in recent months by politicians and in the media.

Some 43% agreed that there is substance to many of the criticisms made which should be taken seriously, while 88% agreed that criticisms "reflect current domestic politics, rather than substantive problems with the higher education system".

In addition, 86% agreed that the onus is on university leaders to propose response to the criticisms being made.

PA Consulting's annual survey also asked university leaders about the impact changes to funding and regulation of higher education would have on their institutions.

Around three quarters (74%) said that a significant cut in the cap on tuition fees for home undergraduates - which currently stand at £9,250 a year - would be "highly damaging", with a further 15% saying it would cause "some harm".

Mike Boxall, higher education expert at PA Consulting, said: "It's clear that there will be a continuing stand-off between a government looking to shake up the system and universities wanting stability and continuity.

"That means we could end up bogged down in arguments about marginal changes to funding and regulation rather than debating how universities can address bigger public concerns around social mobility, generational equity, workforce capabilities and post-Brexit society."

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