Budget cuts are top news these past few days, and no wonder: they provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle the fundamental problems that plague the public sector. The current circumstances call for drastic measures and clear visions, and not the “slicing” effect that many fear to be unavoidable.
Obviously, the education sector is not immune from said cuts. Well, so far so good: the coalition government seems to have a set plan of action to reform schools, one that incentivizes private initiative and ensures greater equality, and one that I welcome with open arms. Sadly, this doesn’t hold true for higher education.
Quite bizarrely, different governmental departments are responsible for the administration of universities and schools, the former under the authority of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Yes, the one department facing the highest cuts in absolute value within the immediate future, at 836 million pounds. What is worrisome is the rather haphazard way these cuts are administered: 10,000 university places and several government programs abolished, university funding slashed, tuition fees (currently capped at £3,225) expected to increase. But this all sounds awfully like “trimming back” spending rather than fundamentally rethinking the way of providing higher education. The ever-decreasing state funding, unable to meet rising costs and growing demand, leaves the world-class UK universities vulnerable. Next year’s scramble to secure spots will leave many students empty-handed. And there is a lot more pruning to be done with the £1.4 billion cuts projected over the next three years.
Instead, we need a clear-cut policy that eliminates wasteful spending, encourages competition and targets the limited resources available at the most disadvantaged students. We might as well take advantage of the rare opportunity we have and reform in such a way as to ensure both efficiency and fairness in our higher education system.