The first announced public sector spending cuts were targeted at the universities sector.
It was always an odd choice: New Labour had said its priorities were education, education and education and that 50% of all school leavers should go to university.
The reward? Threats of massive cuts in funding. The estimate of the cost varies from £600 million to £2.5 billion. In either case the impact will be massive. And the logic is simple: let the student pay.
Which is fine, of course, if you’re a parent used to paying £25,000 a year school fees in the sixth form (I kid you not). University is then a cheap finishing school and a welcome respite from previous spending. For everyone else university fees are a nightmare: for students the system is designed to ensure they come out ensnared with debt so they must be good and compliant toeing the line workers living in fear of not meeting their financial obligations who will do exactly as they’re told — just as big business wants.
Now the Russell Group of the 20 strongest universities in the UK has hit back in an article in the Guardian. They say:
It has taken more than 800 years to create one of the world's greatest education systems and it looks like it will take just six months to bring it to its knees. Britain's higher education system is superb — second only to the US, with 18 of our universities in the world's top 100 — and recognised across the globe as a gold standard.
But our gold standard system could be replaced with one of silver, bronze or worse, under swingeing cuts to the funding of higher education and science recently announced by the government. Exactly how much will be slashed and where the axe will fall is unclear, although it has been put at up to £2.5bn.
I suspect they exaggerate just a little. But I mean that: just a very, very little. If we’re passionate we tend to, inadvertently. And these people are passionate, and with good reason. Education is the bed-rock of society, of sustainability, of wealth, of well being, of our future. And it’s being jettisoned. As they say in response:
Our politicians must take a responsible approach to the funding of higher education and recognise that it is one of the jewels in the country's crown, worthy of protection because of the extraordinary value that it brings to our society, international competitiveness and economy. We call on the government to state clearly that higher education will not be cut further and to seriously consider reversing cuts already proposed.
Have no doubt, this is the first of many calls to arms. People will not accept cuts.
And there is no reason to accept cuts. The budget deficit can be filled with extra taxes. Now is the time to raise them. And people had better get the message before May because Cameron is saying he is intent on cutting this year. Disaster is looming.