Sunday 14 February 2010

Time To Cut Out The Dead Wood...

Sheila Lawlor hits back at the government's plans for FE cuts:
The row over university cuts does no credit to the government, nor to those universities that have been panicked into destroying the only thing they have to offer – academic teaching. Lord Mandelson has announced cuts of 5%. They come on top of earlier cuts. But the problem is not just less money. The government seems set on attacking the academic subjects in the humanities while promoting its agenda for "access".
What we see today is yet another consequence of the boom and bust philosophy that underpinned the Blair-Brown years. The universities – or at least student numbers – boomed; but like other public sector booms, growth in numbers was least pronounced where it matters, the frontline jobs.
We can all see it. Why are more people not saying it?
Gordon Brown's great legacy to Britain is in bloating the growth in public employment by 14%, though few of these jobs were for university teachers, hospital medical teams or adequately educated new schoolteachers. From the universities, in fact the story was rising student numbers without equivalent expansion of teaching staff but with the management and administration side more than making up for it.
It's a crazy idea to think that you can increase productivity by increasing, not the people who contribute to that productivity, but the people who feed off it...
The lesson from the benighted health service should be salutary. The legacy of the last decade is one of wards closed, medical teams dispersed and sick people often shunted miles for basic treatment – as are mothers about to give birth. Nonetheless, the proportion of non-medical administrative and management staff remains at an unshaken high as does the discredited philosophy that goes with it.
And that pattern is replicated in the civil service and local public sector too.
Why not look to other ways of curbing costs? Many of the most successful companies in the UK have not shed jobs, but have taken pay cuts. New posts have been frozen and no new support jobs are advertised. Translated to the universities, this would mean a cull of non-teaching jobs and an opening of the system to allow universities meet, not turn away from, demand for places.
It's a no-brainer, indeed.

Why are they not doing it?


Brian, follower of Deornoth said...

Are these actual real cuts we are seeing here, or are they just 'cuts' in the public-sector meaning of the word (i.e. any increase in expenditure smaller than the department concerned was hoping for).

TDK said...

One reason that it's so difficult to cut government jobs is that when a bureaucrat is task with making saving he can either cut the admin (which is is there to help him meet his targets with his paymasters) or he cut front line staff. Cutting nurses or ambulance crews gets lots of negative publicity for the government yet do not hurt the bureaucrats ability to fulfil government targets. It's a no brainer why bureaucracies grow.

I don't see how asking bureaucrats to cut pay would work any differently. Clearly they would again target the front line staff.

On the other hand if we were to eliminate final salary pension schemes from all grades, then this would disproportionately affect the management grades rather than the front line staff who by and large don't qualify.

PT Barnum said...

Actual cuts.

HEFCE (a quango) determines the number of students admitted to each university, a number not determined until A Level results come out. (Forward planning, anyone?)

Each university then parcels out those numbers between its departments.

Undershoot on recruitment and not only are universities not getting all the income (fees) they could, they are fined by HEFCE.

Overshoot on recruitment and the university receives no fee money for the extra, unauthorised bodies, so are teaching them for nothing.

Reducing the number of students a university can admit reduces their income, particularly in areas where there is no industrial or business investment to be earned, where reliance on fee income is paramount. Pure sciences, education, medicine, most arts and humanities, all social sciences departments have had to become very creative indeed to generate income in order to operate at break even.

It is neither a free market nor a properly supported state system. It is the worst of both worlds.

Anonymous said...

What about all of the new student accomodation blocks etc. that are being constructed? Many university campuses are permanent building sites. The University of Sussex has spent £29 million on new buildings, but is now making academic staff redundant. I believe the mis-management of these 'Corporate universities' is to blame, rather than the government!

JohnRS said...

"It's a no-brainer, indeed.
Why are they not doing it?"

Because, of course, they have no brains!!

And with no-one seriously taking an axe to their budgets, we would they bother?