A Real Kick In The Teeth.
Politicians seem to have one thing in common, whichever party they hail from – and no, we don’t mean an unquestioning adherence to failed capitalism, although that is almost invariably the case these days.
That common ground is their unshakeable belief that the public has the attention span of a particularly challenged gnat. How else can one explain their continual policy back-flips?
Take, for example Universities Minister David Lammy. Way back – actually, only back to July this year – Mr Lammy was proclaiming that “in tougher times it is right that we continue to invest, which is why we are providing funding today to help meet some of the unprecedented demand to study at university.”
All well and good, and very praiseworthy it sounded, that is until yesterday, when Business Secretary Peter Mandelson pronounced that cutbacks were needed to pay for the “higher than expected cost” of funding grants and loans for the record number of students going to university during the recession.
In his annual grant letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Dark Lord announced university funding cuts of £135 million for next year.
This is on top of £600 million efficiency savings to be made from 2012, which were announced in the pre-Budget report by the Chancellor, and £180 million of efficiency savings over the next 18 months.
The letter also says that universities will be fined £3,700 for every student they took on this autumn above the limit set out by the government – fines which will add up to many millions of pounds.
Mr Lammy was speaking at a time when the government was providing an extra 10,000 university places in a frantic effort to cut the number of school-leavers entering the unemployed statistics direct from school.
But government generosity at that time was strictly limited. Although it funded student support in loans and grants, there was no money to finance the teaching and universities had to provide it out of reserves.
These are now to be depleted even further to penalise universities for taking on more students than the government expected during the unseemly scramble to provide the extra places between July 20 and the start of the university year in September.
Mr Mandelson said at the time that the costs of supporting extra students would be met be “reprioritising” existing budgets, whatever that means.
Well, it’s now become clear. He meant that the costs would be met until the Labour government had bunged billions at the banks to such an extent that the public finances needed drastic retrenchment.
Apart from taxpayers having to pay the penalties for Labour’s misplaced generosity to a pack of failed gamblers, young people not even qualified to pay tax yet will also have to cough up, in terms of their life opportunities being cavalierly restricted.
So much, then, for Mr Lammy’s “continued investment.” The British people will continue to be squeezed to underwrite the profligacy of the bankers and education will have to bear £915 million of that squeeze.
And that’s just the start of a retreat from education that the government is trying so hard to portray as simple necessity. It is, in fact, nothing of the sort. It’s a judgement call that the government has got wrong.
To subsidise the banks, it is mortgaging the future of Britain’s young people, truncating the expansion of education chances for poorer students before that expansion really got under way.
And that is an ill-judged call, because it will inevitably restrict Britain’s ability to climb out of recession and the consequences will be visible for decades.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt described the cut as “a real Christmas kick in the teeth for staff and students and proof that the government has completely lost its way when it comes to higher education.”
We can’t better that estimate.