Wednesday, 23 December 2009

£533 million cuts for universities

Peter Mandelson - who's supposed to be nice and cuddly these days, putting his Prince of Darkness days well behind him - is announcing £533 million worth of cuts to university funding.

BBC News reports
: 'The government is to cut university funding by £533m - from £7.81bn this year to £7.29bn for 2010-11 - the annual grant letter shows. In the message, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson also asks universities to protect quality and access to higher education.'

So, this amounts to a very damaging cut of around 7% in overall funding. It represents cutbacks on a scale that is bound to affect the quality of education for hundreds of thousands of students and put enormous strain on universities. It won't just be some universities that are affected - this is more of a generalised attack on a vital area of the public sector. Redundancies for university staff are already a major issue.

It's also a reminder that the issue of public sector cuts is not a hypothetical 'when the Tories get in' problem. This is happening now, under New Labour. Interestingly, the Tories are positioning themselves well to the left of the government here (I know that's not hard), by declaring they would fund an extra 10,000 student places.

We shouldn't be fooled - the party is lining up severe cuts to the public sector - but it suggests that Mandelson's announcement could be contentious, even in the largely consensual world of Westminster politics. This helps create an opening for prinicipled and serious opposition to the cutbacks, that links this attack to the broader politics of public services and education. There is also the prospect of united campaigning by staff and students, something that's often proved elusive in the past.

And another thing: this is happening at the same time as we learn about THIS: 'A billion-dollar bet on Britain's state-supported Lloyds and RBS banking groups has helped a US hedge fund manager secure a personal payday of $2.5bn (£1.55bn). That's one person making £1.55bn, i.e. three times the total university cuts, from this country's banking system. At a time of recession, job losses and public sector cuts - with fresh revelations of the extent of graduate youth unemployment - it seems the economy is working just fine for some people. I find it hard to think of a more graphic example of the inequality and injustice of capitalism today.

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