Sadiq Khan has urged education secretary Gavin Williamson to reconsider his recent decision to sharply cut government support for Higher Education (HE) teaching in London, saying it has “let slip the government’s mask” and revealed its “levelling up” agenda to be “a front for levelling down London”.
In a trenchant letter, the Mayor tells Williamson he is disappointment that the minister has opted to remove the London weighting element from the Higher Education teaching grant, which forms part of the government’s contribution to the finances of universities and other HE institutions
“I would remind you that levelling up is a critical challenge within London as it is across England as a whole,” Khan writes. “The decision to remove this funding will have inevitable impacts on universities’ ability to provide services for their students. The capital’s universities have more home-domiciled students than any other region across the country, with many students coming from disadvantaged and low-income backgrounds”.
Williamson informed HE regulator the Office for Students (OfS) last month of changes to the grant – sometimes known as the “T-Grant” – he wants made. While acknowledging that “London providers face some higher costs” he argued that “these reflect the overall weighting of the UK economy towards London and it is not clear they can be justified when excellent HE provision can be delivered across the country”.
He continued: “The levelling-up agenda is key to this government, and we think it is inconsistent with this to invest additional money in London providers.” He instructs the OfS to “remove weighting for London providers from across the T-grant” and claims “the reduction of London weighting will enable the OfS to invest in other priorities such as high-cost subject funding, which is offered to providers in all regions of England, supporting the levelling up agenda”.
Khan says the removal of London weighting will amount to a £64 million loss, which will be difficult for the HE sector to absorb and that everything from “research-intensive institutions to to small, specialist arts and music colleges are set to be hit hard by the removal of this funding”. He cites a 2019 KPMG report for Williamson’s department which found it costs 14% more to run an HE course in London than it does in the rest of the country.
“Put simply, removal of this funding represents levelling down for London’s HE providers and learners,” the Mayor says. He adds: “I am alarmed that this attack on the London weighting is the thin end of the wedge, and heralds further attacks on investment in the city. Instead of any attempts to remove other London weightings, the government should be looking at what more can be done to support the high cost of living for public sector workers in London.”
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