A collaborative blog for Current Affairs and Policy Debate

A policy a day…

In Education, Home Affairs on February 16, 2010 at 9:54 pm

By David Weber

…or maybe not. However, it is my intention to blog more about policy in the lead up to the election, particularly given the interesting debate that kicked off recently concerning University tuition.

Indeed, I think I’ll start here, albeit by focusing on a different form of funding than tuition fees. I refer to, as many will have read in the news, the slowly simmering furore over government funding cuts.

It is firstly worth pointing out one thing, it is quite possibly the idea of the civil service that cuts in funding made today will be matched by the coming rises in tuition fees. This appears to be inevitable, by analysing precendent: the last time a government wished to increase university fees without making it an election issue, it did so by taking exactly the same action as this one has – setting up a review on tuition fees to report after the coming election. One wonders if this sort of behaviour could not be regulated by law, for it is a most pernicious practice, damaging to the practice of democracy in this country, which is limited as it is, with a single election deciding 90% of the political issues we have the means to influence.

Indeed, were raises to tuition fees to come into being immediately (say by doubling the cap on fees, or alternatively removing it), the policy of cuts to government HE funding would be more logical. Due to the unique way in which Higher Education is increasinly both seen and funded (as a personal investment made by adults), off-setting the costs away from government to students as recovery gets underway could be an intelligent way for governments to cut spending. Albeit probably a limited one.

One thing which the row shows very much, apart from the rather nasty way in which Sussex University appears to have piled pressure on the government (by threatening to cut funding to historical research, which has seen even Simon Heffer attack this spending cut, which makes his column considerably more interesting than usual), is how contentious spending cuts really are. Forget the wishy-washy “hard realism” that the Conservative party have attempted to claim for themselves in recent months; the bitter fact is simple: people might believe in spending cuts, but only until they know what they are. Then they become SEPs. (Someone Else’s Problem, Should bE Protected.)

The fact is that, as demonstrated by the aforementioned argument, University funding cuts are relatively painless compared to some of the other areas of spending. Which is why the row has been simmering rather than boiling over. However, the fact that it has been this visible will not be pleasant news for the Shadow Cabinet’s long term plans.

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