15 Jul 2010

Vince Cable on university funding

At Vince Cable lecture to vice-chancellors at London South Bank University. He has spelt out a grim economic background – “the worst in living memory” – and said “I just wonder how many people” in the room “are prepared for the economic … contraction”.

“We are now 6 to 10 per cent poorer as a country.” You can see where this is heading. Nobody does gloom quite like Vince. Some civil servants wondered when he arrived at BIS whether he was “alright?”  That, as they’ll come to see, is just Vince. Low-key, understated, not given to eruptions of body-shaking laughter though prone to flashes of black humour.

The HE sector, he’s saying, can’t support itself on the current model at its current size. One or both will have to change drastically. More and more graduates, he says, could be affected by the “law of diminishing returns.”

He says Labour’s 50 per cent target rate for youngsters going into university is neither sensible nor affordable.

On tax, he just said “it surely can’t be right that a teacher or a social care worker pays the same as a graduate who is a city analyst”. So he is investigating a graduate tax. He confirmed that he has spoken to Lord Browne, tipping him the wink that he could profitably refocus extra attention on the graduate tax.

We should get a government plan soon after Lord Browne reports in October.

Vince promised a speech of “Castroesque proportions” as he started, so although he hasn’t finished I’ll send this now in case I’m still listening at 7pm.

Update: He just finished, so no need to cancel the rest of the day. Near the end he mentioned wanting quotas or “reserved places” in universities for children from less-privileged areas or schools.

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