THE GOVERNMENT’S business secretary, Peter Mandelson, delivered a Christmas ‘kick in the teeth’ to students and university workers by adding a cuts package of £135 million onto cuts of hundreds of millions already announced.
Matt Dobson, national organiser, Socialist Students
At the start of the academic year in September 2009 universities were told they would have to find savings of £180 million in their budgets. University managements across the country began job massacres.
Universities such as Sussex, Kings, Leeds and Wolverhampton announced hundreds of redundancies and decimated course programmes. And that was just the beginning!
The chancellor, Alistair Darling, plans to make £600 million in cuts in higher education by 2013. These latest cuts will mean that this year teaching in universities will be cut by £51 million and capital budgets (university teaching facilities and equipment) by £84 million.
Media commentators are calling this cuts package the end of a supposed “golden age” where universities got rich from student numbers expanding. These cuts mean that funding per student will fall in real terms for the first time in ten years.
One of the key tenets of New Labour was the drive to get 50% of young people into higher education. This was on the basis of making students pay for it with tuition fees and cuts in the quality and funding of teaching over the last decade.
Now with a huge public sector deficit, increasing student numbers is not a priority for this crisis ridden government. The 10,000 additional places that were created this year to cater for the yearly increase in university applicants will not be reproduced in the new academic year starting in September 2010. For the first time since 2006 (when top up fees were brought in) student numbers are expected to fall.
Rather than expanding like they did in the “noughties” universities in this decade will close down whole campuses and may even shut down altogether. If these cuts are implemented class sizes that are already too big will rocket, resources for students will be scarce and campus buildings will fall into disrepair.
Universities that have “over-recruited” numbers of students without budgeting for cuts in government funding now face fines totalling £60 million. The situation at bankrupt London Metropolitan, which has made several hundred staff redundant and slashed courses after being hit with an over-recruitment fine, will be replicated across the country at universities that are struggling financially.
Staff and students will suffer from these cuts while private sector fat cats will continue to make millions. But while funding for teaching is being slashed and students are being asked to pay more, funding for research particularly in science and technology for big business is being protected and increased by £109 million this year.
The strain caused by these cuts will give more ammunition to calls by Vice Chancellors for tuition fees paid by students to rise. The main political parties are in agreement and Mandelson’s rhetoric about using this cuts package to “reshape” higher education shows that this is inevitable unless the government is forced to retreat.
Even the basic aspects of the higher education experience and getting a degree are under attack with the introduction of “flexible fast track degrees”. Courses that are supposed to last three years will be compressed into two years with no summer break, allowing an extra term. The government claims this will reduce the cost in fees for students but what about students who need to work during breaks to pay for their courses?
Students and staff have no option but to organise a fightback against cuts, job losses and higher fees. University trade unions need to organise co-ordinated industrial action to fight for every job. Student unions must mobilise students into campaigns linking together in action with staff.
Already we have seen a fightback begin at Sussex where a Stop the Cuts campaign involving students and campus workers organised large protests, last term.
Students and workers from California to Austria have organised mass action against attacks on education. A coordinated mass campaign is needed on a national scale involving students and workers, trade unions and student unions in universities and colleges. Socialist Students and Youth Fight for Jobs activists will be fighting to make this happen.