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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Protecting Higher Education

This fascinating article from Sheila Lawson in yesterday's Guardian may be about the English Higher Education Sector but it applies equally to Wales where the Labour Plaid Cymru Government have cut funding to Universities in real terms:

Departments have been cut as vice chancellors and governing teams wield the axe in line with the preferences of the Whitehall pay – or policy masters. Administrators are seizing the talk of "cuts" to "rationalise", removing small departments and subjects that are expensive, even if academically well-respected. Physics has suffered in the last decade and about 20 institutions have closed physics departments. Now the new cuts, we hear, will mean individual departments will be targeted. In Leeds biological sciences is to be cut; in King's College London the UK's only paleography professorship is to go and cuts will focus on engineering and American studies. Not only that but academics will have to reapply for their jobs. And KCL is one of the universities with reserves. Meanwhile other officials are busy cutting too and the government's Higher Education Funding Council for England has already announced 6,000 student places will go.

Cutting academic staff, axing departments, or artificially curbing student numbers from the centre will be very damaging for the universities. Such changes weaken the system, undermine its competitive edge, damage the body of academic knowledge and thought which is part of the wider whole. But it is the easy option of the official mind, those paid (by us) to manage, whether in the universities or in Whitehall.

Why not look to other ways of curbing costs? Many of the most successful companies in the UK have not shed jobs, but have taken pay cuts. New posts have been frozen and no new support jobs are advertised. Translated to the universities, this would mean a cull of non-teaching jobs and an opening of the system to allow universities meet, not turn away from, demand for places.

In many way Welsh universities are the poor relation to their English counterparts in funding terms, with a growing gap in available finance. If we do not invest in them then it will be our economy that will suffer as well as future generations who miss out on opportunities to improve themselves. That is why the Government needs to urgently address this issue.
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