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Professor Karen O'Brien speaking at a Policy Exchange debate

The UK funding model for higher education should be changed to support students’ financial needs and the future viability of the sector, our Vice-Chancellor has said.

Professor Karen O’Brien said the requirement for highly skilled graduates and a demographic spike in the young population means universities are needed more than ever. However, they face severe financial sustainability challenges. The current HE funding model urgently needs review.  

Breaking the impasse

Professor O’Brien was speaking as a member of the panel at ‘Breaking the Impasse: The Great Debate on University Funding’, an event hosted by Durham University and the Policy Exchange think tank in London, UK, on Wednesday 12 April.  

She said: “At a time of national requirement for highly skilled graduates, and a demographic spike in the young population, universities are more needed than ever.  

“Yet they face severe challenges of financial sustainability that will limit their ability to deliver for the UK while remaining globally competitive in research. Accepting that significant increases in funding are unlikely, we urgently need to re-engineer the current funding model if we are to avoid a growing tension between the financial needs of UK students and the economic viability of the HE sector.” 

Leading thinkers 

Professor O’Brien was joined at the event by delegates from the higher education sector, policy makers and leading thinkers on education policy. 

Also on the panel were Lord Johnson of Marylebone, a former UK Universities Minister; Justine Greening, a former UK Education Secretary; Professor Sir Steve Smith, the UK International Education Champion; and Iain Mansfield, Director of Research and Head of Education and Science at Policy Exchange. 

The chair was Sir Philp Augar, who chaired the Post-18 Education and Funding Review Panel.  

Lord Johnson spoke in favour of allowing universities with high-quality teaching to raise tuition fees. Ms Greening argued for the introduction of a graduate tax. Mr Mansfield proposed an increase in teaching grant, funded by a cap on student numbers.  

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