THES opinion: budget's omissions

March 8, 2001

In yesterday's budget speech, chancellor Gordon Brown stated unambiguously that the British economy needs "2.5 million more employees at degree or higher degree levels, and overall more workers requiring higher skills and qualifications to fill new and higher paying jobs".

This large number of graduates can be found only by expanding universities. But Brown's budget speech was notable for its lack of any mention of higher education to accompany the six-figure cheques that secondary school heads will be finding in the post.

The renewed expansion implied in the budget needs to be paid for by a much more radical reversal of the severe cuts in funding per student that universities saw in the 1980s and 1990s. A small start has been made but it will not meet the Bett bill for low and unfair pay, much less restore academic earnings to some sort of comparability with other professions.

Many in universities will have found much to welcome in the budget, including its commitment to better tax treatment of research and of intellectual property and steps to encourage drug research directed at diseases prevalent in the third world. But higher education should make it clear that its support for a government that has record-breaking financial surpluses, but chooses to write off its debts while neglecting its universities, will be partial at best.

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