2010 has been turbulent; Britain has suffered an economic downturn with huge job losses, been grounded by volcanic ash, and witnessed the first hung parliament since the 70s. An historic coalition has now formed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, but what impact will this fledgling coalition government have on academia and scientific research across the UK?

According to The Guardian, Lord Browne’s report – a cross-party review into higher education funding – the effect could be dramatic. While the full report will not be released until later this year, current proposals include removal of any cap on undergraduate yearly fees, with a predicted rise in tuition fees of around £1000 per year, piling on the debt for thousands of students.

Additionally, the report may suggest that course fees should reflect their real cost relative to each other, meaning that science-related degrees (with a higher practical course content), as well as medicine, will become much more expensive. If Lord Browne’s recommendations are followed, then Nottingham, as one of the country’s designated science cities, could face future long-term problems in attracting students into science – students who may choose courses based on affordability rather than content.

Not everyone thinks such choices are necessarily bad. The Russell Group (which represents a core group of 20 of the UK’s leading universities, including the University of Nottingham) believes that the rise in fees is essential in order for the UK to remain world-class leaders in research and teaching. Until the full release of the report and its resulting fallout, which could be lengthy taking into account the Liberal Democrats’ policy to gradually phase out student fees, the future of scientific study in the UK as we know it remains uncertain.


Katherine Smith

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