Vice-Chancellors have spoken out against Conservative plans to curb government spending in the public sector, proposing a sub-inflation growth in all departments except schools, health, defence and international development. Critics argue that the cut-backs, meaning only a 1% increase in spending, would threaten student numbers and University funding at a time when investing in Higher Education could help combat the economic difficulties presented by a recession.
Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire and Imperial College Alumnus, Professor Les Ebdon, has spoken out against the proposals saying:
"There are several hundred thousand people who are available for higher education who weren't before, and will be looking to retrain now jobs are scarce.
"Of all the counter-cyclical investments, higher education really pays off. You save on job seekers' allowances and social security payments and train people for a new economy. It's not the time to be cutting back in universities."
Professor Ebdon is also concerned that the proposed expenditure, along with the restriction placed on the increase in student numbers for the next academic year after the Government miscalculated the number of students who would be eligible for financial support, will prevent students from under privileged backgrounds from entering the higher education system. The growth in student numbers for academic year 09-10 is limited to only 10,000 new places despite a record numbers of applicants expected due to the widening participation agenda and the lack of jobs available. £100m funding cuts to be made over three years in Equivalent or Lower Qualifications (ELQs) were also announced in December 2007 and are disproportionately affecting part time students and those who wish to retrain during the current economic downturn.
Conservative leader, David Cameron, said of the plans: "We need to make a really big change in Britain from an economy built on debt to an economy built on savings. A culture of thrift at the heart of government and a culture of saving at the heart of our economy - these changes will provide strong foundations for the new economy we plan to build."
This comes as Secretary of State for Higher Education, John Denham, is advising Universities to support the economy by ensuring they pay their suppliers on time and by accelerating plans for capital-expenditure projects. Imperial is already one step ahead of Mr Denham with work on the South East Quadrant Project, which will see the redevelopment of Mechanical and Civil Engineering over the next seven years, getting under way this week.