Tuesday's pre-budget statement from chancellor Gordon Brown was not concerned with cash for universities. Their only gain - conveniently too late for the autumn pay round - was 0.3 per cent off employers' national insurance bills.
Yet much of his statement stresses the importance of higher education to the government's project. New university-based enterprise centres will be pivotal to the planned regional development agencies. Clusters of high-technology industry will be encouraged by changed planning laws. (It is to be hoped these will benefit inner cities, not just rural southeast
England.) Academics keen to commercialise their work are likely beneficiaries of new share ownership rules. More creche places, the extension of the New Deal to the over-25s and new IT training places will enable people to gain essential skills.
However, the dearth of detail in the pre-budget statement makes it of little use as a guide to future planning. It is
not clear what Mr Brown means when he asserts that
"the majority" of school leavers will be doing degrees at
the end of the next decade, let alone whether there is going
to be extra money to pay for such a broad commitment along with all the other things university staff are going
to be expected to do.
Since universities and their staff are evidently seen as crucial in building Mr Brown's bridge between enterprise and fairness, being required to operate on both fronts, it is to be hoped he will use part of his budget surplus to ensure they can do the job.