‘AN XMAS KICK IN THE TEETH FOR STUDENTS!’ – UCU & NUS condemn Brown and Mandelson

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A ‘Christmas kick in the teeth’ for both staff and students is how the University and College Union (UCU) described yesterday’s slashing £398m of government cuts to university funding.

Government funding is to fall from £7.81bn this year to £7.29bn for 2010-11 and university Vice-Chancellors are already talking to government officials about where the heaviest cuts will fall, and by how much student fees will have to be increased.

In a letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) chairman, Tim Melville-Ross, Business Secretary Mandelson confirms the £180m and £83m of cuts he has already announced and adds a further £135m.

Mandelson is insisting on a dumbing down of higher education as a central part of his cuts package.

He writes: ‘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.’

Mandelson also insists that the HEFCE claw back £3,700 per student where universities have recruited more students than they should have to cover the costs of their financial support – a catch twenty two situation where universities are being fined for not meeting targets set by this government.

The letter stresses that the government’s U-turn on extra student numbers – made after a public outcry about the numbers who could not get university places – will not be repeated in 2010-11.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘The HEFCE grant letter is a real Christmas kick in the teeth for staff and students and final proof that the government has completely lost its way when it comes to higher education. You cannot make these kinds of cuts and expect no consequences.

‘We will see teachers on the dole, students in larger classes and a higher education sector unable to contribute as much to the economy or society. How all that marries up with a government that is pioneering a university sector more reliant on student feedback is beyond me.’

Commenting on the section on wider and fairer access to university, Sally Hunt said: ‘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.’

The National Union of Students (NUS) reacted angrily to the news that universities will face extra financial pressures, with some being hit with ‘double cuts’ for helping the government to avert a student places crisis.

NUS National President, Wes Streeting, said: ‘The government was quick to take credit for avoiding a university student places crisis earlier this year but is now shamefully cutting teaching funding to the very universities that helped it achieve it.

‘These come on top of new wider cuts that together represent a double whammy for some universities, and whilst we are assured they will not affect teaching and learning, we remain to be convinced.

‘This, coupled with the news that the government will not repeat its extra expansion of university places in 2010 despite a continued rise in applications and a proven youth unemployment crisis, 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’.

Mandelson is forcing universities to seek private funding from big business, and also to seek the cap on student fees lifted completely.

The NUS and all of the TUC trade unions must take action to prevent the complete privatisation of higher education by Mandelson and Brown where only the rich will be able to afford proper degree courses.