Friday, 15 October 2010

Spending cuts

Currently listening to: (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding

The Grumpy Biomed doesn't really enjoy politics, and is quite suspicious of most politicians. It may be a cliché but I really do believe that you can tell a politician is lying when his/her lips are moving. So in a break from the traditional subjects covered by this blog (coursework, my bad exam results and hangovers), I'd like to give my opinion on the government's proposed assault on students, academics and universities.

The recently released Browne Report urges the government to totally free market-ise higher education in England and lumber the common student with unlimited tuition fees. In addition to this, the government plans to cut £4.2 billion, yes, that's billion with a b, from the budget of English universities. That includes a £1 billion cut in research.

What does this mean? Well, some may argue that lifting the cap on tuition fees allows the market to "take its course", increases efficiency and allows the forces of supply/demand to set prices rather than an arbitrary government diktat. That's all very well in theory and there's no denying that in certain areas, competition does work (e.g. supermarkets). But as Tony Blair himself admitted about US universities (which is where this report will take us) "Those who paid top dollar got the best."

How sad that in this day and age, only the rich will be able to access the best higher education. As the article I have linked says: "The result [in the US] is that the gap between the richer and the poorer universities has widened and low-income students have been increasingly clustered around the cheaper universities." Is this really desirable in our so called "Big Society"? Shouldn't everyone have an equal footing and gain a place based on merit rather than the contents of their wallet?

Lord Browne, Tony Blair and David Cameron all went to university back in the days when it was free and furthermore generous grants were available. Tony Blair, having had his Oxford education compliments of the state, then came to power and charged students £1000 a year to go to university. He then lied through his teeth in the 2001 Labour manifesto, promising not to institute top up fees, but pretty soon New Labour forgot the very students that helped re-elect them, and brought in fees of £3000~ per annum in 2004.

Fast forward six years and David Cameron and Nick Clegg plan to slash the university's budget by 79% and then lumber students fresh out of secondary school with tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt. Forget paying off your mortgage, the Grumpy Biomed's children will probably be paying off their tuition fees well into their 60s!

Do I believe education should be free as a matter of principle? Of course I do, Scotland do it just fine. Do I believe the government has foisted extraordinary costs on the common man/woman so as to keep the richest sectors of society rich? You bet.

The Grumpy Biomed is not under any delusions. I know at best I am a fairly average student, trying to make my way through my BSc. I know I won't ever conduct any groundbreaking research. But I look at my incredibly intelligent lecturers and see that they do. Is cutting their funding the right thing to do? Should my fellow students be penalised £100,000 simply for wanting to study medicine? (A very real possibility under this report).

Every day, academics all around the country, whether in the science sector or not, are putting Britain at the forefront of research and academic advacement. I think that cutting this immense amount of money from teaching will blight the training of the academics of tomorrow. Our universities will be segregated, diminished and worse off due to this report and this of course, will impact wider society in the worst possible way.

Message to Nick Clegg: We haven't forgotten and nor will we forgive:

Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox now. I didn't mean to come across as moany, but it's a very real and important issue and I felt like discussing something other than how badly I do at exams or whatever.


  1. Scotland has free universities because England pays for it. In the US, there are public and private universities and most people end up paying very little anyway because most (as in more than half) get scholarships of some sort. The best universities are the richest, unfortunately, as they have the most money for grants and scholarships. Also, doing a PhD is completely free for any student, and everyone is liable for the same fees for undergraduate degrees. This prevents the ridiculous situation where each overseas student in the UK subsidises 3 home students.

  2. Hey, I enjoy reading your blog. I am a first year biomed at QMUL,started a blog recently.
    Check it out some time.

  3. @Anonymous

    Even the likes of Oxford are freaking out over the cuts ( Even universities with immense endowments will lose out from these cuts. The Tories are not particularly generous or public minded people, so I doubt they've made any plans for an extensive scholarship system.

    @Vagus Nerve: I'll be keeping up with your blog!