The letter, asks HEFCE to continue to pursue priorities for supporting high quality science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) provision, widening participation in higher education and recognising the needs of small and specialist institutions. The letter highlights the themes of the Science and Innovation Strategy in recognising the importance of excellence, collaboration, agility, place and openness.
In addition to outlining spending priorities, ministers use the letter to express their support for the work universities are doing to encourage diversity, and believe more work can be done at university boardroom level. Currently only around 19 per cent of Vice Chancellors are female.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "Universities are now well funded for the long term which means better facilities, better quality teaching and a better student experience. This is a record we can be proud of. Many universities have also taken some steps to address diversity in their senior management teams, but with only one in five female Vice-Chancellors there is definitely room for improvement. I encourage them to continue their work in this area to mirror the excellent progress that has been made in the FTSE 100 boardrooms.”
Ministers request the Council to work with higher and further education institutions to develop innovative curricula that will help advance science, technology, engineering and maths skills and meet employer needs for recruits with greater technical expertise. The call comes as the cap on the number of students higher education institutions can recruit is removed from the 2015/2016 academic year.
Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, Greg Clark said: "Our universities are among our most vital assets with a worldwide reputation for excellence. By reforming the system of university finance we have allowed universities to grow even at a time of public spending constraints, permitting the historic step to abolish the cap on student numbers which had previously kept some talented people out of higher education. We have further to go, but last year’s 11 per cent increase in the entry rate of young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds shows the momentum is now established. Investing in our universities and in our students is an investment in the future strength and prosperity of the country and this funding letter demonstrates our unswerving commitment to supporting higher education."
In the letter ministers also welcome HEFCE's roll-out of the National Networks for Collaborative Outreach, and the results of their innovative work on higher education cold spots. Both of these have an important role to play in increasing access to university and will ensure the benefits can be felt across the whole of the UK.