The Labour government’s investment in education has been widely publicised since its rise to power in 1997 and there has been a significant increase in funding to match its ‘50% participation in higher education’ target. However, at the university level, this looks set to change. More than 100 universities face a drop in their government grants as a consequence of £450 million worth of cuts. 69 universities face cuts in cash terms and another 37 have rises below 2 per cent. Furthermore, increased funding is now going to those departments where research is of the highest quality, which means that whilst some universities will not see a cut in funding, they will see a reallocation of their funds.
Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of Hefce, said: “These are very modest reductions. I think it is quite likely that universities will be able to cope with these without in any way undermining the student experience.” Despite this reassurance, there are concerns that, with these spending cuts and growing student numbers, class sizes will have to increase, the quality of the education may fall and ultimately, it may mean a reduction in the number of places offered. The Conservatives have estimated that 275,000 students will miss out on a place. UCAS applications have grown by 23% – or 106,389 – so far this year, but the number of places has been reduced by 6000. This policy of cutting places is clearly contrary to the government’s target of 50% participation.
With the average degree costing students over £9000, it is hardly surprising that students are unhappy with these spending cuts and the fact that it could lead to a lower quality education. With the possibility of rising fees (in particular, as advocated by Lord Patten, who has called for the abolition of a “preposterous” £3,200 cap on student tuition fees) and a lower quality degree, this means that students could end up paying a very high price for a university education.
Universities fear research funding cuts Financial Times (18/3/10)
More students but who will pay? BBC News, Sean Coughlan (18/3/10)
University cuts announced as recession bites Reuters (18/3/10)
How about $200,000 dollars for a degree? BBC News, Sean Coughlan (18/3/10)
Liberate our universities Telegraph (17/3/10)
Universities should set own fees, say Oxford Chancellor Patten Independent, Richard Garner (17/3/10)
University budgets to be slashed by up to 14% Guardian, Jessica Shepherd (18/3/10)
Universities face cuts as Hefce deals with first funding drop in years RSC, Chemistry World (17/3/10)
University cuts spell campus turmoil BBC News, Hannah Richardson (18/3/10)
Universities told of funding cuts Press Association (18/3/10)
100 universities suffer as government announces £450 million of cuts Times Online, Greg Hurst (18/3/10)
HEFCE announces funding of £7.3 billion for universities and colleges in England HEFCE News (18/3/10)
- Why is there justification for government intervention in higher education? Think about the issues of efficiency and equity and why the market for education fails.
- What are the arguments (a) for and (b) against allowing universities to set their own tuition fees?
- Why is the government planning these substantial cuts to university funding, when it is still trying to increase the number of students getting places at university?
- Is the ‘50% participation in higher education’ a good policy?
- What are the benefits of education? Think about those accruing to the individual and those gained by society. Can you use this to explain why the government has role in intervening in the market for higher education?
- Is it right that more spending should go to those departments with higher quality research? What are the arguments for and against this policy?
- What are the costs to a student of a university education and how will they change with funding cuts and possibly higher tuition fees?
In 2008, the UK government set up a National Equality Panel to investigate inequality. “The Panel was asked to investigate the relationships between the distributions of various kinds of economic outcome on the one hand and people’s characteristics and circumstances on the other.” The panel delivered its report, An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK, in January 2010. It “addresses questions such as how far up or down do people from different backgrounds typically come in the distributions of earnings, income or wealth?”
The aspects of inequality examined include: educational outcomes, employment status, wages and other sources of income (such as benefits) both for the individual and the household, and wealth. “In our main report, we present information on the distributions of these outcomes for the population as a whole. Where possible we indicate how they have changed in the last decade or more, and how the UK compares with other industrialised countries. But our main focus is on the position of different social groups within the distributions of each outcome.”
A major influence on people’s income was the income, wealth and class of their parents since these affected education, peer groups and a whole range of other life chances. This made it virtually impossible to achieve equality of opportunity.
The report also looks at policy implications. These include not just the redistribution of incomes, but also the more fundamental issue of how to create equality of opportunity. “The challenge that our report puts down to all political parties is how do you create a level playing field when there are such large differences between the resources that different people have available to them.”
So what has happened to inequality? What explanations can be offered? And what can be done to lessen inequality? The following articles look at the findings of the report and offer their own judgements and analysis.
Rich-poor divide ‘wider than 40 years ago’ BBC News (27/1/10)
The Big Question: Why has the equality gap widened even through the years of plenty? Independent, Sarah Cassidy (28/1/10)
UK is one of world’s most ‘unequal’ societies Irish Times, Mark Hennessy (28/1/10)
Unequal Britain: richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest Guardian, Amelia Gentleman and Hélène Mulholland (27/1/10)
No equality in opportunity Guardian, Phillip Blond and John Milbank (27/1/10)
Has the wealth gap really widened? Guardian, Tom Clark (27/1/10)
Inequality in a meritocracy Financial Times, Christopher Caldwell (29/1/10)
Who wants equality if it means equal poverty? (including video) Times Online, Antonia Senior (29/1/10)
A Major miracle on equality Public Finance, Richard Reeves (29/1/10)
UK one of the worlds most unequal societies; report says The Sikh Times (29/1/10)
Only policies, not posturing, will bring down inequality Independent (28/1/10)
The full 457-page report can be accessed here.
A 44-page summary of the report can be accessed here.
A 6-page executive summary can be accessed here.
Click here for the charts and tables from the report.
Another good source of information on the distribution of income is the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings published by the Office for National Statistics.
- How can we measure inequality?
- Outline the findings of the report.
- Why is inequality so high in the UK and why has it continued to deepen?
- Have tax credits helped to reduce inequality?
- To what extent are greater equality and faster economic growth compatible economic objectives? How are incentives relevant to your answer?
- What specific policies could be adopted to give greater equality of opportunity? Identify the opportunity costs of such policies.
In 2010/11, government funding for UK universities will be 7 per cent less (£518m) than in 2009/10. This has led to calls for substantial increases in student fees in order to stave off a serious funding crisis for many universities. One such call has come from David Blanchflower. As the first article below states:
“A leading economist has called for students from well-off families to be charged the ‘market rate’ of up to £30,000 a year to go to university. David ‘Danny’ Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, said the “poor have been subsidising the rich” for too many years.”
But just what are the arguments for and against a substantial rise in fees and who should pay any rise in fees? Should it be only students of very well-off parents or should it include middle-income parents too? Or if student loans are available to cover higher fees, why should not the same fees apply to all students? Then there is the question of who benefits from a university education? How much should external benefits be taken into account?
Call for universities to charge well-off students £30,000 a year Observer, Anushka Asthana and Ian Tucker (27/12/09)
A rise in fees would make university education fairer Observer (27/12/09)
Who wants a two-year degree? Independent on Sunday, Richard Garner (27/12/09)
Briefing: University funding Sunday Times, Georgia Warren (27/12/09)
Universities face £500m cut in funding Financial Times, Nicholas Timmins (22/12/09)
The nightmare before Christmas: grant letter announces £135m cut Times Higher Education, John Morgan (27/12/09)
Fast-track degrees proposed to cut higher education costs Guardian, Polly Curtis (22/12/09)
- Why is the government planning to make substantial cuts to university funding?
- What are the arguments for and against the university sector bearing a larger percentage cut than most other areas of government expenditure?
- Should any rise in fees be born by parents or by students from future income?
- Identify the external benefits from higher education? How does the existence of such externalities affect the arguments about the appropriate charges for higher education?
- What are the economic arguments for and against moving towards more two-year degrees.
- Discuss the case for and against increasing the participation rate in higher education to 50 per cent of young people.
- Is higher education a ‘merit good’ and, if so, what are the implications for charging for higher education?
At the end of two weeks of often acrimonious wrangling between representatives from 193 countries, an agreement – of sorts – was reached at the climate change summit in Copenhagen. What was this agreement? It was an ‘accord’ brokered by the USA, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.
This Copenhagen Accord contains three elements. The first is a recognition of the need to prevent global temperatures rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The second is a commitment by developed countries to give $30bn of aid between 2010 and 2012 to developing countries for investment in green technology and to mitigate the effects of climate change. In addition, a goal was set of providing $100bn a year by 2020. The third is for rich countries to give pledges on emissions reductions and for developing countries to give pledges on reducing emissions increases. Developed countries’ pledges will be scrutinised by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, while developing countries will merely be required to submit reports on their progress in meeting their pledges.
But this is only an accord. It has no legal status and was merely ‘recognised’ by the countries at the conference. What is more, the target of limiting temperature rises to 2C does not contain a date by which temperature rises should peak. Also, as countries are not required to submit targets for emissions until February 2010, it is not clear how these targets will be kept low enough to meet the temperature target and there is no identification of penalites that would apply to countries not meeting their pledges.
Not surprisingly, reactions around the world have been mixed. The following podcasts and articles look at these reactions and at the economic mechanisms that will be required to meet the 2C limit
Podcasts and videos
Recriminations after Copenhagen summit (video) BBC News, David Loyn (21/12/09)
Copenhagen special: Climate change talks end in failure Guardian podcast (19/12/09)
Where do we go after Copenhagen? BBC Today Programme (21/12/09)
What was agreed and left unfinished in U.N. climate deal Reuters of India Factbox (20/12/09)
Copenhagen deal: Key points BBC News (19/12/09)
Copenhagen deal reaction in quotes BBC News (19/12/09)
Copenhagen climate summit fails green investors BBC News, Damian Kahya (22/12/09)
Why did Copenhagen fail to deliver a climate deal? BBC News (22/12/09)
Copenhagen climate accord: Key issues BBC News (19/12/09)
Harrabin’s Notes: After Copenhagen BBC News, Roger Harrabin (19/12/09)
Copenhagen climate conference: Who is going to save the planet now? Telegraph, Louise Gray (21/12/09)
Copenhagen’s One Real Accomplishment: Getting Some Money Flowing New York Times, James Kanter (20/12/09)
Copenhagen climate summit: plan for EU to police countries’ emissions (including video) Telegraph, James Kirkup, and Louise Gray (19/12/09)
The road from Copenhagen Guardian, Ed Miliband (UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) (20/12/09)
Carbon Prices Tumble After ‘Modest’ Climate Deal Bloomberg, Mathew Carr and Ewa Krukowska (21/12/09)
Copenhagen deal causes EU carbon price fall BBC News (21/12/09)
Have the hopes of environmentalists been dashed? Financial Times, Clive Cookson (21/12/09)
EU reflects on climate ‘disaster’ Financial Times, Joshua Chaffinin (22/12/09)
China not to blame on climate China Daily, Zhang Jin (23/12/09)
Selling a low-carbon life just got harder Times Online, Jonathon Porritt (21/12/09)
Better than nothing The Economist (19/12/09)
Copenhagen has given us the chance to face climate change with honesty Observer, James Hansen (27/12/09)
- What incentives exist for countries to agree to tough pledges to reduce emissions?
- Was the very limited nature of the Copenhagen Accord a Nash equilibrium? Explain.
- Is the carbon price a good indicator of the effectiveness of measures to curb emissions?
- Must any agreement have verifiable targets for each country of the world if it is to be successful in curbing carbon emissions?
- Is a cap-and-trade system the best means of achieving emissions reductions? Explain.
There has been much discussion recently on the use of fiscal policy to combat recession. What measures should be used? How effective will they be? How will the resulting large budget deficit be brought back into balance in the future?
But what are the microeconomic implications of all the tax changes? Are the changes fair? What implications do they have for incentives? Perhaps it’s time for a completely fresh look at the structure of our tax system – a system that has been changed piecemeal over the past years to meet short-term macroeconomic and political goals. Can it be redesigned to meet the two microeconomic goals of efficiency and equity? The following article looks at what form a redesigned tax structure might take.
Our tax system is a mess. But Darling has a chance to fix it. (Peter Wilby) Guardian (11/4/09)
- In what ways does the present tax system fail to meet the goals of (a) fairness through redistribution and (b) creating appropriate incentives?
- Explain what is meant by “The whole system has been framed by Tory thinking to assist social engineering, Tory style”.
- Provide a justification and critique of the reforms proposed in the article.