20,000 extra uni places encouraging but more needed

For those of us in education, today’s budget makes for pleasant reading at first glance, welcome news that the government will fund 20,000 extra uni places.

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

For those of us in education, today’s budget makes for pleasant reading at first glance. There is the welcome news that the government will fund 20,000 extra university places and that it will extend the job or training guarantee for 18-24-year-olds to March 2012.

While it may have been naive to expect another round of punishing cuts in the last budget before the election, it was still encouraging that the government made some effort to keep people off the dole queue. Additional places at universities and colleges are both positive developments, but they do need to be put in context.

£270m additional funding for higher education looks like good news, but the truth is that it won’t be able to repair the damage that will be done by the £900m cuts previously announced. Colleges and universities don’t operate in separate silos so, while finding money to fund extra places as a one-off or for an extra year should be congratulated, the damage will still be done as, overall, money leaves both sectors.

Job losses will be a casualty of the cuts so the additional 20,000 students should expect larger class sizes and less one-to-one time with lecturers than current students. What we really need are consistent long-term plans from both the government and the opposition. We have no faith in the Tories’ muddled plans to fund additional student places through bonuses for students or families rich enough to pay their loan debt off quickly.

We need to look beyond state funding or higher fees for higher education. The three beneficiaries are the state, the student and the employer so perhaps it is time business made a contribution. We recommend raising the level of corporation tax in the UK to the G7 countries’ average and ringfencing the cash for higher education. It would leave our main corporation tax below that of France, Japan and the United States, and 96 per cent of companies in the UK would be unaffected by the change.

The move would be similar to Boris Johnson’s 2p in the pound tax on central London businesses to specifically fund the Crossrail project, which the businesses will benefit from. The growing consensus, bizarrely championed by the Mayor of London, is that the time has come for business to put its hand in its pocket to pay for the benefits it gets from public services.

In further education, the government was right to find the funds to extend the job or training guarantee for 18-24-year-olds to March 2012. There is little point, economically or socially, in consigning young people to the scrapheap. The issue we have, like in higher education, is that colleges are properly supported to deliver the training the youngsters should expect.

The promise of a 2.2 per cent increase above inflation in spending from the government meant little to the education sector. There is already a squeeze on adult education and last week universities were told they faced a real terms funding cut of, on average, 1.8% per cent.

The bottom line is that extra places for students should be a cause for celebration, but with jobs at risk in both universities and colleges we will inevitably see larger class sizes and increased workloads for staff who survive the cull. Anyone who doesn’t think this will lead to a drop in the quality of education is sadly misguided.

Let’s not forget that other leading economies, such as France, Germany and America, are investing money in education. It is a shame that, despite taking a step in the right direction today, overall our government seems intent on doing the opposite.

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18 Responses to “20,000 extra uni places encouraging but more needed”

  1. James Morgan

    @ByrneTofferings re: your earlier Q about uni places: http://bit.ly/b1S3Ss

  2. Thomas Byrne

    Can you provide a source to show that 96 per cent of British businesses wouldn’t be hit by a corporation tax hike?

  3. Thomas Byrne

    Also, the Tory proposal was welcomed by the NUS as a short term solution to solving the crisis in places last summer, it still hasnt been implemented now and we have an even more dire situation. Rather than put ideology first, you’d be better off accepting the measure then awaiting the actual review on universities.

  4. Ian

    When I was leaving school less than 10% went to university. I look at what now comes out of university and ask why did they bother to get themselves into such debt. When I worked for my PhD most of my peer group were locals returning to my University now I see most of those working for a PhD as Educational Tourists these people are of no benefit to UK PLC as when they finish they have to return rather than stay.

    Rather than offer more capacity why not ration places to those that are capable? What is need is for the mass education establishments to return to providing FE type courses such has HND/C and City & Guilds qualification alongside a scheme that rewards business to take on A-Level school leavers and train them. I don’t see why a nurse needs a degree for example and don’t get me started on Hospitality Services.

    We need the focus of the funding for Universities to be directed towards the Russell Group end of the spectrum and allow these establishments to focus on Blue Sky research and developing post graduate students that will lift the quality of the work force. The type of student that comes out of the likes of Buckingham, Thames Valley et al are not fit for purpose. What is needed is common sense to prevail and the Government acknowledge that the experiment of mass university education has failed to achieve suitable levels of attainment.

    If the next government is to focus on education, education, education then having lifted foundation skills up following the neglect of Thatcher’s Britain can the change be that we fix secondary education. Nothing was wrong with the old technical high schools alongside grammar schools. In Germany they still provide very capable people able to meet the needs of the economy. The issue with a comprehensive education system is that to work setting is required and focus on exam results means that teachers encourage students to specialise too soon.

    A government that focuses on the groups that shout the loudest rather than invests in what is best for the long term future of the country is one that sets itself for failure. The country does need more University places rather it needs an alternative scheme that develops people fit to work for a living wage. The current focus risks Higher Education falling to the levels seen in America.

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