Thousands of students’ dreams of a university education shattered by government funding cuts

Today's UCAS figures confirm that thousands of students - one in three - will have their dreams of a university education shattered by government funding cuts.

Sally Hunt is the general secretary of the University and College Union

Today’s UCAS figures show record levels of people applying to university, which should not come as too much of a surprise. The current generation of 18-year-olds have been encouraged to apply to university for the whole of their school careers and in tough economic times, people look to boost their skills if they find themselves out of work.

The figures should be an opportunity for us to praise a job well done by the government in promoting the value of education, and a degree, and recognising the power of education to transform lives and act as a catalyst for social mobility.

Unfortunately, today’s figures just confirm that thousands of students will have their dreams of a university education shattered by government funding cuts. The combination of record numbers wanting to go to university and such savage cuts in funding is producing a crisis.

With courses already closing and teaching staff losing their jobs, Peter Mandelson risks becoming known as the Doctor Beeching of higher education. Those students who are fortunate enough to secure a place will face increased class sizes, less contact with lecturers and will still leave university with record levels of debt.

Not funding higher education places makes even less sense when one considers the alternative of pumping extra cash into the benefits system to prop up record levels of youth unemployment. Other leading economies are investing money in universities in order to help economic growth and widen participation, yet our government is intent on doing the opposite.

This approach is an insult and a snub to the thousands of students the government has been encouraging to reach for university for the entirety of their educational career.

As I have said before on Left Foot Forward, the government has been so close to getting it right when it comes to opening up university education, but it has always failed to be bold enough. It has got more people to work hard towards a university place, but has now restricted places so many talented and qualified people will miss out.

The bottom line is that you cannot make savage funding cuts without serious consequences, despite Lord Mandelson’s insulting efforts to sell the cuts as an opportunity. The government is abandoning a generation who, instead of benefiting from education, will find themselves on the dole queue alongside sacked teaching staff.

The government can come out with as many statements as it likes about the importance of education, how it will be protected from the recession and its own commitments to social mobility, but the hard facts and punitive cuts tell a much harsher and sadly more accurate story.

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