MANDELSON’S decision to lop £398m from the higher education budget, and to bring in third class tuition, will see thousands of workers in higher education sacked, and universities closed, as well as driving higher education into the arms of big business and private financing, which will end the cap on student tuition fees.
In his letter to the HEFCE Mandelson established both the budget and the objectives of the government as far as higher education is concerned.
He writes: ‘The economic situation is extremely challenging, and across the public sector we are all facing difficult choices.’
It turns out that what Mandelson is really after is a cut price and two-tier education system.
He writes: ‘Higher Ambitions set out the importance of increasing the variety of undergraduate provision. We want to see more programmes that are taken flexibly and part-time and that a learner can access with ease alongside their other commitments. We also wish to see more programmes, such as foundation and fast-track degrees, that can be completed full-time in two years. The underlying theme is providing for diversity. Over the next spending review period, we will want some shift away from full-time three year places and towards a wider variety of provision. . . Your thinking here will of course feed into HEFCE’s review of the teaching funding method, which will also take account of the conclusions from Lord Browne’s independent review of higher education funding and student finance.’
The last sentence makes clear that since the state will not finance university education, it will have to come from big business and limitless tuition fees, which are currently under ‘independent review’.
The UCU union leader Sally Hunt said on Mandelson’s ‘provision for diversity’: ‘We welcome a range of flexible options to encourage people to consider higher education. However, reading between the lines here it sounds like a two-tier university system where the privileged few have the pick of the university park and everyone else has to make do with what they can afford.’
Hunt has recognised the nature of the beast!
Mandelson, when dealing with the funding figures for 2010-11, in fact rejects 50 per cent university education when he states: ‘My predecessor repeatedly made clear to the higher education sector the risks of student over-recruitment putting unmanageable pressures on our student support budgets, (in his letters to you in October 2008, and in January 2009). . . Nevertheless, some institutions have recruited above their permitted numbers for 2009/10. The grant for teaching has been adjusted downwards, inter alia, as a result of this over-recruitment. I am now asking you to make the appropriate adjustments to the allocations of those institutions that have over-recruited, at a rate of £3,700 per full-time under-graduate and PGCE student recruited above the permitted level. This figure represents the average cost to the Government of providing student support.’
To add salt to the wound he adds: ‘In July 2009, David Lammy wrote to you saying that an extra 10,000 students could be recruited, compared to the numbers in the January 2009 grant letter, without the penalty for over-recruitment applying. This was a one-off increase in recruitment for 2009/10 only, responding to the particular needs of the time, and it will not be repeated in 2010/11. I repeat the warning of last year that any over-recruitment by institutions in 2010/11 could again result in a transfer of HEFCE grant back to this Department in this or future years.’
He also insists: ‘In the current difficult economic circumstances, there is a particular need to exercise discipline on pay in higher education, at all levels and in all areas. I am pleased that universities made a realistic pay offer in 2009. Over the next year, moving towards a sustainable position on pensions within the sector will be a key challenge.’
From wage freezes to pension cuts!
The NUS’ attitude to this letter is to proclaim it ‘will sound chimes of doom for existing students in cuts-hit universities and for talented school leavers set to fail to secure a university place’.
The point however is that the NUS and the TUC trade unions must immediately meet to discuss action to defend higher education by bringing down the Brown government and bringing in a workers’ government that will carry out socialist policies. This is the only way forward.