1996: what does it hold in store?

Electronic cash, the return of Slade - and strikes, war against the motor car, and a scandal over Arts Council grants. Our specialists predict
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LAST YEAR'S dire predictions on school budgets came true, to some extent, and about 10,000 teachers' jobs were lost. Now ministers have been forced to put more money into schools, and the further education colleges are on the casualty list for 1996. Some already have huge debts and have made staff redundant. Many will have to join forces to survive, in some cases with each other and in others by becoming satellite colleges of universities.

But the media will be more concerned with the finances of the universities. With cuts of pounds 100m over the next three years, the vice-chancellors are up in arms. They will meet in February to discuss whether they should charge fees or cut student numbers, but in the end nothing much will change. Universities will take more foreign students and there will be the usual scares about home students finding it more difficult to get a place, but the well-qualified will all find somewhere to go.

Another perennial row will break out when Sir Ron Dearing, chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, announces new plans for A-level students. He will tell ministers that students should take five subjects in the lower sixth and three in the upper, leaving with a baccalaureate-style National Certificate. But traditionalists want the "Gold Standard" left alone.

The really embarassing issue for the Government this year, though, will be nursery education. Parents of four year olds in Westminster, Norfolk, Wandsworth, and Kensington and Chelsea will receive education vouchers for their children under a pilot scheme for a planned national system. But many will be disappointed because there will not be enough nursery school places to go round, except in Wandsworth.

Ministers must decide whether to press ahead with countrywide vouchers or to abandon the ill-fated plans, favoured by the Prime Minister but not by the Education Secretary, Gillian Shephard. It will be a battle between political expediency and common sense. Unless a way can be found to get the Government off the hook with minimum embarrassment, political expediency is bound to win the day.