Scottish higher education will face disaster next year if the next Government implements proposed cuts of more than 5 per cent, the Association of University Teachers Scotland has warned.
Provisional public expenditure figures for Scottish higher education imply a real reduction of about 5.5 per cent for 1998/99, according to the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council.
The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council has effectively told institutions not to use this figure as a basis for planning. Although it expects public expenditure will continue to be constrained, the Government has made it clear that funding for next year and beyond will depend on the outcome of the Dearing inquiry and the forthcoming public expenditure round.
But AUTS fears that the projections could end up as a funding blueprint if there is a change of government. David Bleiman, AUT assistant general secretary, said: "The Scottish Office has made it clear that this figure is to be taken with a pinch of salt as it takes no account of the Secretary of State for Scotland's decision to have a moratorium on efficiency gains in 1997/98, or the Dearing inquiry."
But he warned it was essential that everyone in Scottish higher education lobbied opposition politicians, and all prospective parliamentary candidates, on their plans for higher education.
"The proposed 5.5 per cent for next year is not at present a meaningful figure, but any attempt to implement further efficiency gains would spell disaster for students, staff and Scottish economic prospects," he said.
Helen Liddell, Labour's Scottish education spokeswoman, said: "Gordon Brown was talking about global public expenditure figures. Within that, there is an opportunity to re-prioritise, and we have said quite clearly that education is our key priority." No specific commitments could be made pending the outcome of the Dearing inquiry, she added.