Messages from the Dearing debate

October 3, 1997

You chide Scottish academics for their "naivete" (THES Editorial, September 26) because we call for additional funding from the Scottish Parliament without saying, as Lindsay Paterson put it, "whether another 10,000 higher education students is a better option than 10,000 hip operations".

The case for higher education to have an increasing share of the nation's growing income has been thoroughly researched and made in the Dearing and Garrick reports. However, to descend to the level of squabbling for our share of a diminishing cake by decrying other important public services is the politics of despair. I want good public services in the new Scotland, higher education for my children as well as a hip operation for their granny, not to mention good public transport, libraries and the rest.

In the short term the constraints which Gordon Brown has placed on public spending give Donald Dewar an unenviable task in "divvying up" the cuts in the Scottish block between health, education, local government and other services. The higher education community is making a powerful, united, reasoned case against the cuts projected by the last government. But as someone who spoke at the Scottish Trades Union Congress before the election warning of the potential damage of holding to the Tory spending plans, I do not need to finger other important services for decimation.

In any event, you quote David Blunkett as saying that by 1999 the freeze on departmental budgets imposed by Gordon Brown will have ended. What to do about the short-term funding crisis for 1998? Why, pay student loans in instalments and simply shunt the cost of the third instalment into the 1999 financial year, as your analysis of "where the Pounds 165 million has come from" reveals. Hey presto! English higher education is spared the worst of the projected Tory cuts I and all without delaying a single hip replacement.

David Bleiman Assistant general secretary Association of University Teachers

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