The latest figures from the OECD on the percentage of students graduating from university in the United Kingdom make uncomfortable reading for government ministers. We may have more students coming through the system but our numbers are lower than many of our competitors (for example, Finland, New Zealand and Ireland) because they have invested more heavily than us recently. The UK is now dead on the OECD average, down from 3rd to 11th place since 2000.
The message is clear. Ministers would be well advised not to cut higher education at a time of recession. We should instead be investing in the future for good economic reasons. First, the cost of putting more people through university in economically hard times is lower than when the economy is doing well and inflation is on the rise. Second, improving people's skills during a slump is a way to ensure that the nation recovers more quickly than it would otherwise and that fewer people are on the dole. Is it too much to hope that ministers will make sensible plans for the long-term before Britain tumbles even further down the league table?