Cost of living crisis: higher education and research sectors call on suppliers to reduce prices
A collective of education and research sector organisations has today appealed to digital content, hardware and software vendors seeking “pricing constraint” in the face of the growing cost-of-living crisis.
Signatories to the statement, which cites a “perfect storm of declining resources and increased demands”, include:
- Professor Stephen Decent, chair, UUK/Jisc content negotiation strategy group
- Professor John Latham, CBE, chair, UUK/Jisc software negotiation strategy group
- Karel Thomas, executive director, British Universities Finance Directors Group (BUFDG)
- Ann Rossiter, executive director, Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL)
- David Prosser, executive director, Research Libraries UK (RLUK)
- Deborah Green, CEO, UCISA
- Gavin Phillips, category manager, academic services, Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium (SUPC)
- Dr Richard Parsons, chair, Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries (SCURL)
- Iain Young, chair, Scottish Higher Education Digital Library (SHEDL)
- Julie-Ann Garton, chair of UK Universities Purchasing Consortia (UKUPC)
Professor Stephen Decent explains:
“The combined impact of an extraordinary hike in energy and equipment prices, the cap on student fees and the need to support students struggling with the cost of living means that institutions are facing unprecedented financial challenges.
“Additionally, while some digital content, hardware and software suppliers offered free access or discounts during the pandemic, these have now largely disappeared.
“For all these reasons, budgets are under huge pressure and many institutions cannot afford to provide the resources that staff and students need for effective teaching, learning and research.
“This is why we’re calling on suppliers to do right by students and researchers and make every effort to ensure their products are affordable.”
The statement in full reads:
“Universities, research institutions and colleges have a vital role to play in driving growth, jobs and prosperity.
“Sector finances however face fresh challenges; the cost of living crisis means that the sector’s costs including energy, equipment and estates have soared at a time when income, particularly domestic student fee income, has reduced in real terms.
“While the UK government is protecting research and development (R&D) spending, long term strategic challenges persist. This includes increasingly precarious international recruitment combined with the fact that 30% of research is unfunded and is heavily reliant on international student fees.
“The cap on domestic student fees remains meaning that each years’ tuition fee received is worth at least 18% less than when first introduced in 2012–13. English universities reporting an in-year deficit has increased from 5% (2015–16) to 32% (2019–20)1.In English institutions, net operating cashflow has decreased from 8.4% of income (2019–20) to 4.2% (2020–21).
“At the same time, the sector needs to deliver more, from providing extra support to students and staff struggling with the cost of living, achieving net zero, training approximately half a million nurses, doctors, and other health and care professionals between 2021 and 20262.
“Furthermore, the UK government estimates that the R&D workforce will need at least an additional 150,000 people by 2030 to build on its position as a global R&D leader.
“Put simply, the sector faces a perfect storm of declining resources and increased demands. Exchange rate fluctuations are in many cases amplifying the impact. Every item of our expenditure is subject to intense scrutiny.
“We ask that providers work alongside us and not impose price increases, bundle products or otherwise require conditions that limit our ability to meet our community’s needs or manage our spend.
“We call upon suppliers to offer flexibility, pricing constraint and to partner with us to meet these challenges.”
Find out more about university finances.
- 1 The Public Accounts Committee stated that this increase is a serious concern for the ongoing financial health of the sector: Financial sustainability of the higher education sector in England - Committee of Public Accounts (parliament.uk): https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5803/cmselect/cmpubacc/257/repor...
- 2 Our universities: generating growth and opportunity (universitiesuk.ac.uk): www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/Reports/our-univers...