Lord Mandelson has taken aim at academics for being resistant to change. "They think they have a right to be set in aspic in what they do, they are using the argument about spending reductions as a screen or a cloak behind which resistance to any sort of change and reform can be conducted." Was the Business Secretary referring to academics collectively at the University and College Union or to the university bosses at the elite Russell Group? We do not know.
But Mandelson sounded miffed at the Russell Group's hyperbole. By arguing that cuts of more than £900m over three years could bring universities "to their knees," the leading research-intensive universities got higher education put on the agenda as it never has before.
Cuts will not leave the best universities on their knees. British institutions are in pretty good health, as a visit to any campus shows. Some universities have considerable slack in them – endless committees and supporting staff – and vice-chancellors are able to exercise a layer of bureaucracy. So, cuts are possible. But it would be wrong for ministers to cut higher education more than other parts of the public sector – and Lord Mandelson has been warned. It is vital to the economy to have flourishing universities, as Presidents Obama and Sarkozy know.
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