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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24 Responses to “Thousands of students’ dreams of a university education shattered by government funding cuts”

  1. Rob

    “The combination of record numbers wanting to go to university and such savage cuts in funding is producing a crisis.” – I think you mean ‘the combination of record numbers wanting to go to university, savage cuts, and UCU’s intransigent idiotic inclination to deny the reality of the funding situation and block sensible change’, is producing a crisis. It’s regrettable you didn’t choose to post this on the Times Higher website so that everyone, including your own members, could dish out yet another kicking for your cack-handed handling of your Union.

  2. rob

    tell me again why i should vote labour if the only area i really care about is going to take the brunt of the cuts.

  3. Shamik Das

    Rob 1, can we please keep it civil? How about outlining the specific problems you believe the UCU has caused and how best they can be solved?

  4. Matthew Draycott

    RT @leftfootfwd: Thousands of students’ dreams of a university education shattered by government funding cuts: http://is.gd/7W75y

  5. Notes: On the Continuing HE Debacle « Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts

    […] Sally Hunt of UCU on Left Foot Forward… why are all union leaders essentially Labour party supporters? Whatever happened to the REVOLUTION? Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Political WeekContinuing on my personal note, adding in some things… […]

  6. Kaveh Azarhoosh

    RT @leftfootfwd: Thousands of students’ dreams of a university education shattered by government funding cuts: http://is.gd/7W75y

  7. Tom Corfield

    RT @leftfootfwd: Thousands of students’ dreams of a university education shattered by government funding cuts: http://is.gd/7W75y

  8. arthur argomaniz

    RT @MediaActivist: RT @leftfootfwd: Thousands of students’ dreams of university educations shattered by gov funding cuts http://is.gd/7W75y

  9. Save My Degree

    RT @leftfootfwd: Thousands of students’ dreams of a university education shattered by government funding cuts: http://is.gd/7W75y

  10. rob

    “”tell me again why i should vote labour if the only area i really care about is going to take the brunt of the cuts.”” That was the only comment i posted the other longer comment under “rob” was a different rob

  11. artois

    I do think Rob has a point, afterall, we are looking at an INCREASE in the number of people applying to higher education. I thought that was what we wanted?

    Also, why does she think higher education should be immune from cuts? Surely she realises everyone is going to have to take some pain from a £178 Billion deficit? It’s not like universities will be reduced to candle light and wax tablets. The Beeching comparison was totally off as well- Lord Mandleson is not saying that a third of universities and university places should be shut down and lost.

  12. Chris Roberts

    RT @leftfootfwd: Thousands of students’ dreams of a university education shattered by government funding cuts: http://is.gd/7W75y

  13. DougRouxel

    RT @ucu: Peter Mandelson the Dr Beeching of higher education? Sally Hunt on @leftfootfwd http://tiny.cc/h9eEc

  14. Wit Ackman

    I think rob (2) has a point when he asks: why should we vote for Labour?

    I think Sally displays the frustration of a longterm loyal Labour supporter. What we need instead from our Union leaders is for them to respect those they supposedly represent enough to see that it is students, academics, and the people affected who have the power to change this situation, not simply politicians. To this end, we need:

    1/ Strikes and other actions
    2/ Independent analysis and critique
    3/ Engagement with all those affected (students as well as academics, other staff including TAs and non-academics, other unions and the public, e.g. parents)
    4/ Engagement with workers, and other public sectors which likewise face looming cuts, redundancies and “modernization” or “restructuring” plans.
    5/ A unified critique of the HE system and, indeed, our current system of government

    Sally Hunt critiques Labour for not being bold enough – I don’t care about Labour. What I want to ask is, will Sally Hunt and UCU be bold enough – bold enough to act quickly and effectively.

    Our representatives seem to be paralysed, resorting only to marginalised media debate, deferring their own responsibilities onto a parliament that has continually failed and betrayed us. But this fight is fully justified, and we hold all the cards.

    STRIKE NOW!

  15. Luke

    I favour the ‘quiet’ option of taxing the private sector to fund universities. After all, it is the private sector which would benefit overwhelmingly from a pool of well-trained, well-educated graduates.

    Cuts will see the rise of ‘easy’ universities with skeleton course structures, this in turn will mean that students miss out having more seminars and lectures, and less of an opportunity to develop the ‘soft’ skills they need after university.

    Today, students at Sussex University have occupied the campus conference centre in protest over cuts to education. You can follow the action on twitter: http://bit.ly/aagGkq

  16. Ben Little

    Surely we should all be campaigning for a different model for higher education funding. It’s not perfect, but the NUS did come up with this: http://nus.org.uk/PageFiles/5816/NUS_Blueprint_Summary_report_final.pdf

  17. Giles

    Sorry to be a dumb economist, but isn’t the answer to increase tuition fees? When things get really popular in other similar fields – say, Chinese lessons – that is what happens – and the marginally interested drop out, while funding increases for the convinced.

    University funding under Labour has increased more than any other area, and they were brave enough to introduce a sensible system like tuition fees. They don’t deserve to get a knocking for this.

  18. Wit Ackman

    Giles, for a “freethinking economist” it’s surprising that you have so thoroughly and unquestioningly absorbed neo-liberal orthodoxy.

    The answer is that education should not be (further) reduced to the same logic as that which currently operations in the free market economy, because this logic is extremely detrimental to society. Likewise, the economy should not be run in this manner, but… I won’t push the point.

    Besides this “overarching” point, your strange idea that “the marginally interested drop out, while funding increases for the convinced” operates on a very faulty logic, which, though I’m sure it quite probably involves advanced and complex economics, seems to presume that these operations will take place in a total vacuum.

    1) Your “marginally interested” should read instead “those from poorer families”, since this is the reality this epithet disguises.

    2) “Convinced”, even should we read with you and take it in the best sense, here means those who have been educated to believe in the worth and necessity of Higher Education – and it will not be the case that all those who are “convinced” will actually be able to afford attending (in otherwords, Labour have broken their promise as Sally correctly points out).

    3) Funding won’t actually increase since tuition fee increases are balanced against and acting as substitutes for massive cuts across the board.

    4) Beyond this the whole structure and qualitative character of HE will change, will be forced to change: this will not simply be a like for like swap of government cash for private cash.

    5) The way earnt money is spent will change: more will be spent on attracting students to lucrative courses, and less will be spent on research, especially in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, since this is not considered to create short-term profits. Money currently passed over is tightly earmarked: e.g. for research, or for a particular construction project (this system is highly faulty, but…); when money comes from tuition fees, it will not have these controls – who knows how Universities managers will choose to spend it? One thing for sure, research is definately going to lose out big-time.

    In otherwords, I completely agree with your assessment: you are a dumb economist.

    All best,
    Wit

  19. Sixth Sun Multimedia

    RT @MediaActivist: RT @leftfootfwd: Thousands of students’ dreams of university educations shattered by gov funding cuts http://is.gd/7W75y

  20. Giles

    Hi Wit

    No I don’t mean poorer families, and the evidence from Hfece is that the introduction of tuition fees has not turned this into MORE of a middle class enclave, but less – perhaps because of the grants that cover the bottom 25%. A well designed system that Labour should be proud of …

    All other things being equal, a greater contribution from graduates earning enough will increase university funding. It would also target the burden more accurately on those who benefit most directly.

    Some would say that HE ought to change – why should it be immune to institutional change? Do students always think they are getting what they want? Are professors always responsive to them? I think tuition fees make them more demanding – is that terrible? Was it better when it served just 5% of the population?

    It’s good to hear the statist view. DOn’t trust universities to make their own decisions. I get it.

  21. Wit Ackman

    No, your every point is wrong.

    What you think you mean is irrelevant. It will be poorer families who suffer, as well as middle-class families. I don’t care what HEFCE have made their statistics say. Besides which, whilst there is a fairly manageable (yet now drastically failing and set to crash and burn) system of loans for undergraduates, postgraduates, mature students and other unconventional undergrad students are suffering majorly (not that I suppose the “old” system was some utopia for pg students). Only a very very few postgrads receive adequate funding, whilst the rest are struggling to survive whilst balancing 4 jobs alongside their studies (this is no exaggeration). Soon postgraduate students will be expected to pay perhaps upwards of £7000 a year, and the system will fall apart because it is not actually possible to earn that much money from a part time job, on top of the money needed for rent and living allowances. Government debate keeps the focus on UGs to avoid having to acknowledge this impending disaster.

    As to the points made in your second paragraph: 1) all things are not equal, as I have already stressed – HE is facing MASSIVE CUTS and these are being evidenced in SWEEPING redundancies, research cutbacks, course closures, department closures, and even campus closures ; 2) your “greater contribution from graduates” supposes a different system than is currently in place (the NUS sponsored “Graduate Tax”). This system is bullshit too, and the careerist NUS have no respect from students because they simply don’t represent them. Nor do politicians. It might, possibly, not-withstanding inevitable cock-ups and systematic failures, be as useable as the Labour system briefly was (which is to say, useable for some; not at all useable for others). But, the Graduate Tax is far from the solution, and it is certainly not the change WE WANT.

    Next, HE should change, but WHO should decide how it changes? That is the question. You suppose that our professional poliicians (i.e. bureaucrats, manipulators and criminals) should decide this, and that is exactly where you are wrong and where we differ entirely.

    Leading on from this, recognising an emerging pattern, it should become clear that 1) this entity you call “universities” who might make their “own” decisions is a false construction; 2) that universities in the best analysis are not unities nor are they reducable to that detestable class of bureaucrats, manipulators and criminals otherwise known as university managers (e.g. Vice-Chancellors; i.e. those who will make spending decisions). Therefore, 3) revenue earnt from tutition fees would not go to universities per se, in order that they might make their own decisions, but instead to a destable class of morons who have inserted themselves in a position that removes power from those they supposedly represent (in this way, a university really is a microcosm of the nation). So your “neo-liberal”/”statist” dichotomy deconstructs: really they are both two sides of the same coin. The current system is awful, but at least it gives money in a (slightly) more direct way to research projects than I predict tuition fees will, quite simply because history and reality show that bureaucrats never cease to be bureaucrats.

    So, I still agree with you: you are still a dumb economist and, I might add, less capable of freethought than your average rock, plank of wood, plate of blamange etc.

  22. rob

    @ Giles: I would rather see an increase in the mean tution fees (with support for thouse who really cant pay) than see a cut in the number of students.

  23. Cant Col UCU

    RT @ucu: Peter Mandelson the Dr Beeching of higher education? Sally Hunt on @leftfootfwd http://tiny.cc/h9eEc

  24. Cant Col UCU

    RT @leftfootfwd: Thousands of students’ dreams of a university education shattered by government funding cuts: http://is.gd/7W75y

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