Historic building fund slashed

James Hoyle - News Reporter 5 November 2009

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is considering a move in response to government demands to save money that will have a potentially troubling effect on some of the UK’s historic landmarks.

In May, John Denham, then the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, requested £180 million of “cashable efficiency savings” in the higher education budget for 2010-11.

His replacement, Lord Mandelson, is also behind savings. A spokeswoman for his department was reported by The Times Higher Education in July as saying, “It is right that when the nation is tightening its belt in a tough fiscal environment, we ask the higher education sector to do the same.”

The plans would see the Historic Buildings Targeted Allowance scrapped, saving £40 million which would otherwise have been spent on maintaining historic university buildings. This may be phased out over a number of years. Oxford and Cambridge stand to lose the most money should such a cut go ahead. This year, Oxford University received £5.14 million for the protection of its historic buildings and Cambridge University received £4.21 million. Eight other universities were each given more than £1 million.

It used to be the case that Cambridge University had additional funding from the government. When that was abolished by the present administration, an agreement with the University was made to increase funding for its historic buildings.

Asked about the possible loss of such funding, David Howarth, the Lib Dem MP for Cambridge told The Cambridge Student (TCS): “This is not just appalling as a cut in funding but it is a betrayal of the terms of that agreement.” He believes that the impact of the cuts “will be bad” for Cambridge.

But HEFCE no longer considers the fund to be as important as it once was, especially when seen in relation to grants made to universities in other areas. A spokesman for HEFCE told TCS: “While it may be true that these buildings require some form of public funding, it is not clear that this should be through the HEFCE teaching grant”. For the 2008-11 period, Cambridge will still receive £115 million through HEFCE’s Capital Investment Fund.

The money from the Historic Buildings Targeted Allowance goes to the University and not to the colleges individually. Therefore, it is likely that the lack of funding will not hamper many projects. Professor Ross Harrison, provost of King’s, expects that the loss of the Allowance will have “no effect” on his college.

The ongoing work on King’s College is funded by an individual alumnus. Most methods of raising money for such projects rely upon the colleges’ own resources rather than upon government funding. Nonetheless, Professor Steve Young, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University responsible for planning and resources, told TCS: “Whether or not this specific element is cut”, all UK universities are “expecting the next few years to be challenging”. The proposals will go to HEFCE’s board for consideration this month.

James Hoyle – News Reporter