The government is dashing the hopes of a generation of young people through cuts in education to try and claw back some of the £850 billion which New Labour committed to save the financial system from imploding.
After announcing that the universities budget for 2010-11 would be cut by £449 million, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said last week that spending on higher education, research and science would be cut by £915m in the next three years.
The cuts come just as the number of school leavers applying for a university place in October has gone up on average by 23%. The University of the Arts London has seen applications rise by 111%, the University for the Creative Arts by 93.8% and Edinburgh Napier by 78.5%, to name but a few. Many applicants no doubt see education as the only option with unemployment among young people soaring. The result is that 800,000 students will be competing for 480,000 places this autumn.
In order to raise revenue, universities are taking in increasing numbers of overseas students who are increasingly being used as cash cows. The average charge to overseas students is now a hefty £10,781 per year. In the last ten years the proportion of overseas students admitted to British universities has doubled. Half of all students on post-graduate courses are now from abroad.
In addition to real spending cuts, the government is fining universities £3,700 per head if they accept students above their allocated quotas, which has led to more drastic cuts in the number of places offered. Thus, thousands of young people who have worked hard to achieve high exam grades are being rejected.
Instead of encouraging the desire for self-improvement, everything is being done to discourage young people, and leave them in an education and jobs-seeking wilderness.
Other areas of education are also been slashed. Further education colleges in England are facing an average cut of 16% for adult learning, according to the Association of Colleges. It says that the Skills Funding Agency is cutting £200 million across the sector, which includes vocational courses like plumbing, electrical installation, catering, care and A levels and GCSEs for adults. In many parts of the country such as Yorkshire and North-east England vocational courses are so hard to find that young men and women see the army as the only way to get a skills training.
The coming tsunami of cuts will hit even harder in a situation where the number of adults benefiting from adult education classes had already dropped back by two million during the noughties. The number of adult learners is currently at its lowest level since New Labour came to power, according to the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE).
A survey conducted by NIACE in 2009 revealed a sharp class divide “between the educationally privileged and the educationally excluded”. Only a quarter of the poorest people surveyed were in education or had studied in the past three years as compared with 53% amongst the best off.
An economic and political system that provides unlimited support to unaccountable and reckless financial institutions at the expense of educating and training a whole generation of youth has forfeited any claim to legitimacy. And don’t even think of wasting your vote on New Labour at the general election.