The Labour party has revealed that hundreds of funded PhD and Masters degree programs have been cut. According to the research councils, these difficult financial decisions are completely necessary. Places have been cut across all educational areas.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is cutting 1,002 places, making the total places 1,900 for 2011/12 instead of the 2,901 places it saw in 2010/11. The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) is also cutting funded Masters courses from 607 to 490.
The data was discovered through a parliamentary question from Gareth Thomas, the shadow universities minister and member of the Labour party. Additionally, the National Environmental Research Council (NERC) will no longer fund 285 of the Masters places it held in 2010/11, but will increase funded PhD places by five for 2011/12.
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is reducing its PhD places from 730 to 660 as well and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is cutting 25 of its PhD places but keeping the number of Masters places at 110.
Mr. Thomas called the decisions “devastating”, saying, “These cuts in PhD and Masters places will have a devastating and profound impact on the range, depth and quality of advanced research, innovation and study taking place in Britain’s universities.
“These cuts are a direct result of the government making the wrong choices on university and science funding and will mean the brightest and best will be tempted to go abroad just when we need their groundbreaking research to help foster innovation and fund new economic growth.
“These cuts come on top of university teaching funding having been axed by 80%, investment in world class research facilities set to drop by 40% and a 10% real terms drop in science funding all over the next three years.”
A spokeswoman from the EPSRC suggested that the council had eliminated project studentships, but did so in order to prioritise the PhD experience due to sought after status of the degree. The council also said that the current level of incoming students was unsustainable for future years due to financial instability in the educational sector. The funding for 2010/11 was exceptionally high. The spokeswoman added, “It is true that we are reducing the numbers, but 600 a year is a fairly substantial number and we have had to think hard about the number of studentships we are able to maintain when resources are being cut.”
Similar statements were made by spokespeople form the BBSRC and the NERC, who also pointed out that students are increasingly funding themselves as they considered education an investment in their future careers.