Please sir, may I have some more

Please sir, may I have some more

Schools welcome new spending but universities are left with unanswered questions

Russell Tilsed – Senior Director of Public Services at 8x8, shares his thoughts on the 2021 Autumn budget, what it means for education, and how universities can stay top of the class.

In his Autumn budget statement, Rishi Sunak declared that he would bring spending on education, in real terms, back to 2010 levels – promising an extra £4.7 billion for schools by 2024/5. While this cash boost will certainly be welcome in schools across the UK, it’s worth remembering that in effect, it is only undoing past cuts. The fact that the extra cash equates to £1,500 per pupil serves to illustrate how far spending had fallen behind.

As Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This still represents no growth in school funding for 15 years… school and college budgets are very thinly stretched, and the financial situation continues to be extremely difficult.”

The increase in spending for schools will be accompanied by an additional £1.8 billion for recovery and catch up over the next three years, however, helping schools to recuperate from 10 years of cuts. A new £560 million fund to support numeracy in adults will support the Government’s stated goal of ‘leveling up’ life chances across the country. And the continued support for the T levels, a new range of vocational courses 16–19-year old’s, will help address the UK’s skills gap.

The one area that seems to have been left behind, though, is Higher Education. There is no mention in the budget of extra cash for universities. As David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges said: “Government’s consistent refusal to increase the funding per student post-16 is baffling. The funding per adult will not have gone up in 14 years by the end of 2024/25, unlike in schools where per pupil funding will match 2010/11 levels in real terms.”

The UK is rightly proud to be home to 28 of the world’s top 500 universities (second only to the United States) including the world’s number one, Oxford. However, in 2021, the UK saw 36 of its universities drop down the rankings while 28 rose. Other countries – notably China, Australia and Canada – made significant gains. If the UK is to keep its place at the top of the league table, the UK government should provide funding to help universities and colleges to modernize their infrastructures and improve and evolve staff and student experiences to deliver better educational outcomes.

One sure way to enhance experiences for staff and students is by leveraging digital technology to create a connected campus. Modern unified communications tools can help universities re-imagine the way students, staff and lectures connect with each other. Some of the benefits include:

  • The ability for admin, lecturers, and students to connect from anywhere, on any device
  • The ability to conduct remote seminars and one-to-ones through Microsoft Teams
  • The option for students to attend lectures through video – either live, or recorded
  • Extra support for clearing week with short-term ‘pop-up’ omni-channel contact centres
  • A secure and reliable network
  • Real time engagement for students and parents through integrated chat, voice, and video
  • Ease of management for all communications channels through a single console

UK universities must not be left behind in the current digital revolution. During the first lockdown schools, from primary to higher education, quickly adjusted and delivered education in new ways. The learnings from these experiences provide an excellent foundation for building the way forward.

It is not just technology, but also the ability to use the technology that determines effectiveness. Now is the time to ensure universities have the skill sets, technology and processes that extend recent adaptations into permanent methods of increasing affordable access to education. Achieving this will require a sustained commitment to funding digital transformations that improve organisational resilience, reimagine education delivery, and transform the staff and student experience.

If the UK is to remain at the forefront of higher education, the government must continue to invest more in universities and help them remain leaders on this important topic.  


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