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With the new Conservative and Lib Dem coalition in power in the UK, new faces were appointed at the ‘helm’ of education and higher education within the country. The new Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is the Liberal Democrat Vince Cable, supported by a team of ministers that includes David Willetts, the new Tory Minister for Universities and Science. As most political forces that came into power across Europe in the past two years of economic turmoil, the Brits started their mandate with some not so good news. On May 24 the new Chancellor George Osborne announced a new wave of public spending cuts, as part of e measure to make savings of GBP 6.25 billion across all government departments in 2010-11.
For higher education, the cut on spending amounts to GBP 200 million, on top of the GBP 1 billion cut made last year by the Labour government. In practice, the decrease of higher education funding halves the number of student places previously promised by Labour in the STEM subjects this autumn (from 20 000 to 10 000 students), in spite of record number of applications. The new Minister of Universities and Science referred to the previous commitment as nothing more than a piece of ‘fiscal magic’ left by Labour. With decreased funding however, UK universities will certainly have a hard time to meet the student demand this summer and maintain the quality of teaching and of the student experience.
It will be interesting to see if the Tory - Lib Dem ‘marriage’ will work, in higher education in particular. So far, the Lib Dems already seem to retract their flagship policy of gradually phasing out tuition fees, a move that would certainly bring them closer to the Tory position. In the meantime, both the new wave of cuts and the ‘withdrawal’ of Lib Dems on the fees issue were strongly reacted against.