Leading Article: Are British universities crying wolf over budget cuts?
Thursday 21 January 2010
The Russell Group's warning that British universities risk being brought to their knees by cuts of almost £200m over the next three years may be over the top. This is a reduction of around 12 per cent and other areas of public expenditure will have to suffer this kind of pain as well in order to reduce the public debt. Higher education is not being singled out – and it has, as anyone who has visited a university recently knows, seen amazing expansion. New buildings, new labs, swanky halls of residence have sprouted all over England. University income is at record levels. The cuts are expected to fall mainly on capital projects. That is regrettable but it is not the end of the world. It is unlikely to mean that our universities fall from gold to bronze standard and it is unlikely to affect our ability to recover from the recession.
The government was right to invest in higher education when the going was good. Now that it has to make cuts, universities should be looking to diversify their sources of income as much as possible. This could well mean higher fees. Relatively well-off young people are still receiving a big subsidy from the state when they sign up for degrees. We need to ensure that public money goes to those who most need it.
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