Mr Brown sows seedcorn for bumper harvest

March 12, 1999

The good news for higher education in this week's Budget is on the research side. Directly, modest but most welcome extra sums were announced for the University Challenge Fund and for infrastructure - both heavily oversubscribed in the first rounds. And there is to be a new fund for seedcorn venture capital - the hardest to come by when planning to spin off companies. Indirectly, the tax breaks for companies' research and development should help to lure British industry out of its reluctance to commission research and provide opportunities for universities to increase income from contracts and consultancies.

Tax concessions for charitable donations should also help at the margin to shift the climate towards giving and help universities raise money from alumni. Collecting small sums from large numbers is not the most effective way of raising money but it does tend to come without strings.

There was less good news, indeed no news at all, on the teaching side. There are reports of grand plans for renewed expansion of higher education,particularly in part-time study and vocational courses. It is not yet clear who will pay for this - except that, by implication, students will carry a good part of the cost.

Individual learning accounts, though extended, remain modest, and it is not yet clear who will subside the fee-waivers promised for people undertaking basic skills and information technology courses. Changes in personal tax and benefits look likely to leave parents with neither married couples' allowance nor children's tax credit just as their children enter the increasingly expensive years of post-16 education.

Further and higher education minister Baroness Blackstone might like to take a look at some of these loose ends as part of the review she has commissioned of student finances.

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