The new government has an “ignorance policy” towards higher education that is prioritising the rich at the expense of the poor, the general secretary of the University and College Union will say today.
In a speech to the union’s annual congress in Manchester, Sally Hunt will attack the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition for adding £200 million to the cuts already proposed for the sector – bringing the total to more than £1 billion since last year.
“It seems that education and learning are out of political fashion,” she is due to say.
“What kind of government would want to cut colleges and universities by £1.5 billion while proposing to give £8 billion of tax giveaways to big business?
“Let me state for the record: I don’t agree with Nick [Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister]. Or his new best friend George [Osborne, the Chancellor]. Or any other member of this government, which has decided to prioritise the rich at the expense of the poor.
“This government has an ignorance policy where its education policy should be,” she is expected to say.
Ms Hunt will argue that the coalition is “ignoring history” by cutting funds to British universities, when previous investment had helped make them “the envy of the world”.
“We need to win the argument with the public that universities and colleges matter,” she will say. “Too often we are the first for the axe because the politicians think they can get away with it. Yet our doctors, nurses and teachers are trained in colleges and universities; our engineers and our architects too.”
Ms Hunt is also expected to warn Liberal Democrat MPs against reneging on the party’s pre-election promise to oppose any rise in tuition fees.
The coalition agreement allows Lib Dem MPs to abstain in a House of Commons vote if they do not agree with the stance taken by the government following the review of university fees and finance being led by Lord Browne of Madingley.
“Politicians who campaigned on an anti-fees ticket and then choose to abstain on any vote in the House will never be trusted again. Politicians must repay the faith voters showed in them,” Ms Hunt will say.
1 June update
National strike action could be on the cards this autumn as union members battle against job cuts proposed across the sector. Delegates at the University and College Union annual conference in Manchester this week backed plans for a ballot on strike action if employers refused to negotiate on avoiding redundancies. The UCU says institutions have made plans for around 2,300 compulsory redundancies. Union members also voted to support industrial action if changes to pensions proposed by employers are forced through. For more from the UCU conference, see Times Higher Education on 3 June.