A recent report on trends in higher education has been criticised by the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) for ignoring “serious issues”.
The report, by universities umbrella organistation Universities UK (UUK) titled Patterns of Higher Education Institutions in the UK, is the ninth in a series of annual reports aimed at analysing trends and issues in the sector.
In a press release, a UCU spokesperson wrote that the “report glossed over the serious issues of funding for universities and the lack of progression in the number of students entering UK institutions from the poorest backgrounds”.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt said: “There is much to celebrate about higher education in the UK… however, it is not good enough to gloss over the areas where much still has to be done if we are to have any chance of maintaining our proud global reputation.
“No country that sees itself as a global leader in higher education can be at the bottom half of any table listing how much money is being spent on higher education.”
UUK says the results show promising figures for higher education, including more international students and higher percentages of poorer students going to university.
However, according to the UCU, UUK used 2005 figures now superseded by more recent figures released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which show the UK spends an estimated £2.7 billion less on higher education that the OECD average.
The report also states that entry from students from poorer backgrounds “continues to grow”, a fact dismissed by the UCU on the basis of the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s performance indicators showing that the proportion of students from poor socio-economic groups actually dropped in the last year.
The OECD report released earlier this month also showed that the UK spends 20 percent less of its gross domestic product on universities than France and 10 percent less than the US.
Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, reiterated concerns over the findings, highlighting the importance of higher education for the economic future of the country.
“We need to continue to expand our higher education system for the long-term social and economic good of the country. It is extremely worrying that we are lagging behind the rest of Europe in terms of public spending on universities.
“We understand the pressures on public finances, but the government would do well to seek savings in other areas of public expenditure rather than rationing educational opportunity. Ahead of next year’s general election we call on all political parties to match their rhetoric on widening participation and investing in education with firm spending commitments.”
The OECD report also ranked the UK 14th out of 26 developed nations for the percentage of its school leavers who went on to gain a degree in 2007.