The Chancellor’s Pre Budget Report in December was an exercise in politics rather than economics. With an election due this summer Labour tried to shore up its core vote by increasing spending on unemployment benefits, pensions and schools.
But with government borrowing of £175 billion this year the axe must fall somewhere. Higher education is one area where it has. The PBR announced £600 million of cuts to the higher education and research budget and on December 23rd it was confirmed that £398 billion of this would come from university funding.
The government floated plans to pay for these cuts by cutting degrees down to two years and fine universities enrolling more students than the government has budgeted for £3,700 per head. The review of higher education which Lord Mandelson is chairing also seems likely to recommend a rise in tuition fees to help cover the funding shortfall.
Spending does need to be cut but why are students facing cuts which other coddled groups are being spared? Quite simply the answer is, as before, political rather than economic.
At the last election in 2005 the turnout among 18-24 year olds was 45%, “a potentially alarming figure” as one study described it. Turnout for the over 65’s, on the other hand, was 87%. This figure for over 65’s was the same as that for the previous election in 2001 while the figure for 18-24 year olds was down from 2001’s 53%. Quite simply the government can push cuts on students because students are unlikely to punish them for it at the ballot box.
(Printed in London Student, vol 30, issue 7, 18/01/10)