University museums fear for future - Museums Association

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University museums fear for future

A 40% cut to university budgets prompts fears of museum closures
University museums face closure following a 40% cut in the higher education teaching budget and plans to scrap the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce).

Last week’s comprehensive spending review saw the higher education budget cut from £7.1bn to £4.2bn by 2014-15. The cut, which excludes research as well as teaching for science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, follows recommendations in the recent Browne Report that universities be allowed to charge unlimited fees and receive funding through a centralised body.

Sally MacDonald, director of museums, collections and public engagement at University College London, said: “All universities are being squeezed so it’s certainly the case that people expect mergers and cuts to non-core services. Unless museums have embedded well, they could be at risk of being cut or merged.”

Core funding

A Hefce spokesman said: “We receive a substantial proportion of the higher education budget, so undoubtedly our funding will be cut. But by how much, and how this will be phased in, we simply don’t know yet.”

The funding body expects to receive its annual grant letter from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in December or January, but university museums are unlikely to have their individual allocations confirmed until March at the earliest.

The spokesman added that the BIS might also issue guidance on how its settlement should be allocated.

Although Hefce survived the recent quango cull, the Browne Report proposed abolishing it, along with the Quality Assurance Agency, the Office for Fair Access, and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. These bodies would be replaced with a single Higher Education Council. 

Kate Arnold-Forster, director of the Museum of English Rural Life, part of the University of Reading, said the situation was very unclear for university museums.

“We don’t know yet if universities are going to say ‘stop doing x or y’. Opportunities to get external funding are also going to become more difficult. We’re bracing ourselves but it’s clear things are going to change.”

However, she added that as universities look to heighten their offerings in a crowded marketplace, there could be opportunities for museums to promote the role they play in supporting and delivering teaching and research.

University museums received a total of £10.5m from Hefce for the academic year 2010/11, up from £10.25m the previous year.

Click here for more information and a list of funding allocations

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