With a few weeks to go until George Osborne’s first Conservative-only Budget in July, he has already sent a cold chill down the backs of the public sector with his plans for the next phase of cuts.Among the areas that’ll be affected by the £2.5bn worth of public spending cuts will be universities. This space will take a hit as part of trimming £450m off the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills’ £13.2bn budget. The rest will be covered, according to the department, by underspends. This, of course, will have educationalists up in arms, but there’s no doubt that cuts have to be made and, like the majority of business leaders that had to be on their toes during the recession, they have to cut their cloth accordingly. Whereas businesses almost immediately felt the majority of the effects of the so-called “Great Recession” of 2008/9, along with the three or four years afterwards, the giant oil tanker that is the public sector takes a lot longer to turn. Although there was a lot of talk of large scale cuts to government-funded services by the coalition after the UK was left with a Labour-created economic wasteland, they were not immediately hard and heavy. But, even now things are looking more optimistic, they are still necessary. As businesses have to constantly evolve to meet market requirements and adjust to shifts in the economy, so should higher and further education. And if that means doing it on fewer resources then so be it. They will contend that it will lead to a less skilled and educated workforce, but I would argue strongly that would not be the case. In fact, it presents an opportunity to do the complete reverse. Of course, there is a place for degree-level learning, but practical, work-based training, in whatever sector, has to be the way forward.
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