Will Higher Education Cuts Harm Britain’s Economic Future?

George Osborne is looking for new ways to reduce government spending, and according to Peter Scott writing for The Guardian he might find higher education funding to be a good place for cuts. Yet even though currently universities around Britain have healthy treasuries, drastic funding reductions could lead to decline in educational quality that will have an impact on the country’s economic future down the line.

Although the Chancellor hasn’t yet announced where the new rounds of cuts will come from, higher ed seems a logical choice in light of the fact that many other social programs have already been gutted, and he has made a commitment to keep the money going towards health, defense and elementary and secondary education at the same level.

The universities’ temporary affluence is due to the poor implementation of the fees scheme which had even sub-par schools charging the maximum allowed tuition and reaping the windfall. Scott does not expect this to continue indefinitely, as £9,000 per year of college is not sustainable in the long term based on the citizenry’s mean income.

It is not their fault that, to ease Liberal Democrat consciences, the repayment regime is so loose that up to half of graduates will never pay back their loans in full – although the effect, of course, is to push up real (as opposed to nominal) public expenditure and bust the Treasury’s model. But a coalition government scrabbling for votes from beer drinkers and petrol-heads is not going to offend another constituency by tightening up that repayment regime. So, according to its blinkered neo-liberal logic, there is no alternative to cutting direct public support for higher education still further.

Scott doesn’t expect a reduction in funding for two of the government’s pet higher education initiatives: research and growth of the “strategically important and vulnerable” subjects like science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

But there might be open season on everything else, including expanding access to students from background typically underrepresented on university campuses.

In short, cutting higher education spending would amount to slashing and burning our future – unless, of course, we want to continue to rely on a bloated and corrupt financial services sector and property/high street spending bubbles. Not so long ago there was talk of rebasing our economy on high-tech high-value exports. Goodbye to all that. In any case, the truth is that the “prosperity” of higher education, which a predatory and desperate Treasury is now eyeing, is largely an illusion. In practice higher education is in turmoil as institutions struggle to make sense of the insane combination of a “command” economy and a highly volatile student “market”.