Slash supervisions or shrink the student body: Cambridge at breaking point says Vice-Chancellor

Cuts may mean Cambridge cannot go on as it is

Cambridge University funding government supervisions

Growing more ominous by the day, the spectre of spending cuts after the general election has led the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, to prepare for the worst.

With the university already at breaking point, a stark choice will have to be made on the university’s future.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Sir Leszek said: “I cannot afford to put any more in from the university and the colleges than we are already to subsidise undergraduate education.”

If the university decides one-to-one supervisions and other expensive resources are too precious to be ditched, more applicants will have to be turned away.

Should we kiss goodbye to small supervisions?

There have been no talks between the university and individual colleges on how they will deal with future government cuts.

Sir Leszek has indicated that maintaining standards of excellence and taking undergrads on merit will take top priority, meaning cutting student numbers are likely to be the first line of action in the event of a funding fall.

To counteract tighter resources, options such as increasing undergrads from outside the EU, taking on more post grad students and possibly altering teaching traditions are being explored.

Labour pledged to reduce students’ annual tuition fees to £6,000 two weeks earlier. The party has promised to fund this by reducing tax relief on pensions, but the move would make universities more dependent on the government.

Cambridge already subsidises 45 to 50 per cent of the total £16,100 annual cost of undergraduate degrees.

It has often been suggested that universities such as Oxford and Cambridge have the necessary status to go private, but Sir Leszek says this would be a “very big leap”.

Spot Sir Leszek… the one in red

“I have no desire to go private. You have to ask yourself, what benefits would you have? Does Cambridge university feel under threat by any of the political parties?

“Well, there are financial issues that we would have to deal with but nobody is threatening our autonomy and our capacity to ensure that we deliver an education.”

After the election, the next Chancellor will have to face difficult decision about the budget.

Sir Leszek said: “Do you fill the pothole in the road or do you have an extra student at Cambridge?

“Those are not easy [questions] that they will have to respond to. I clearly am biased, and would opt for the latter any day.”

A tricky predicament – that much is clear. But should we pay more to avert it or is it time for Cambridge to shrink anyway?