Cuts to any public service have a human face. Behind every cut is a child, an individual, a family and even, perhaps, a whole community with cuts to schools, hospitals, transport and leisure services. When cuts are made, they have a disproportionate impact upon people and communities who are already experiencing shortages of income, jobs, education and housing. Cuts are not only unnecessary but are a deliberate strategy to undermine state involvement in any form of public provision and to allow the forces of the market to exploit and subjugate populations.
Here we are talking about cuts in education; government policies that have led to reduced staff numbers, changing staff pay and conditions, reduced school and college building and maintenance, reduced grants and bursaries to students, reduced specialist education resources and the reduction or removal of courses that have no direct link to employment.
In the UK policies are being created and implemented that undermine the idea of free and equal education. That the current government has fuelled cuts to state education reiterates that we cannot rely upon those currently in power to not only protect the state education system, but to stop its further dismantlement and privatisation. The current government's strategy is to take ‘the State out of education’ and to do this three key principles have been implemented:
1. Privatisation - The introduction of a private enterprise market philosophy and practice into the management and delivery of education. Businesses are encouraged to run or sponsor schools and colleges and a business approach is developed into education. It becomes a debate about value for money with education becoming a product and students consumers. Education services are given a 'monetary value’ and schools and colleges are themselves outsourced to the highest bidder.
2. Deregulation - The reduction of any ‘statutory infringements’ to private enterprise such as staff qualifications; do we need college graduates appointed to teach on nationally agreed terms and conditions? Can they be appointed on zero hours contracts? Do we need Health and Safety policies?
3. Austerity - Education in the welfare state is seen as ‘a drain on public resources’; over staffed by bureaucratic management with lazy, inefficient and ineffective teachers on good salaries and pensions. It has thereby become a key area to be subjected to excessive cuts to trim off excess costs. The role of state schools and colleges is seen as merely providing a future workforce educated to a sufficient level and no more, engrossed in debates about the competitive nature of the market and what we can afford.
These three elements have been combined in a three pronged attack in cuts to courses, staff pay and conditions, an increased use of zero-hour contracts and declining upkeep of building and resource provision.
Furthermore, this declining investment in public sector education is made starker in contrast with the cost of education in schools such as Harrow, Eton and Queen Ethelberga’s in Yorkshire. To send a child (usually but, not exclusively, a boy) from the ages 11-18 will cost in excess of £180,000 (£30,000 per year). At the moment the average spending for all authorities across England is £4,550.54 (IFS 2014) and the government wants to cut this figure.
Moreover, these cuts have not only effected primary, secondary and college education but, as argued by the Association of Colleges (AoC) 'Adult education and training in England will not exist by 2020 if the government continues with its planned cuts to the adult skills budget'. This comes after the government announced plans to slash funding for adult education by 24% in the 2015/16 academic year. Adult education and training has already been squeezed by funding cuts in recent years, with the number of adult students participating in Level 3 courses falling by 17.9 per cent between 2012/13- 2013/14 alongside 61% of colleges holding staff on zero-hour contracts.
The University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Sally Hunt adds: 'These cuts are a devastating blow to colleges and risk decimating further education. Slashing budgets this harshly could be the final nail in the coffin for many of the courses that help people get back to work'. 'Not everyone needs or wants to study an apprenticeship, but colleges are being forced to prioritise them over other kinds of courses'.
Similarly, within the higher education sector 53% of UK universities use zero-hour contracts and, of these universities, UCU’s own research has shown that:
- nearly half (46%) had more than 200 staff on zero-hour contracts
- of the remaining 54% of institutions the number employed on zero-hour contracts ranged from one to 199
- five institutions had more than 1,000 people on zero-hour contracts
- of the institutions that supplied information about zero-hour staff in work, just one in four (24%) said all their staff on zero-hour contracts currently had work
- zero-hour contracts are far more prevalent for university staff involved in teaching than in research.
These are all disturbing figures to show the dismantling of the higher education system and the seeming intention to move to further privatise universities and colleges, funded by individuals, families or corporations. The private sector will move in further where business can ‘turn a profit’ leading to the further privatisation of our education system- a fact that the current government seems unwilling to change and something that all should keep in mind given the upcoming election.
Article written for The Peoples Assembly by John Richardson