The LSE considers going private

Labour Party

The London School of Economics has presented plans about going private to its governing body in the wake the coalition’s cuts to higher education.  Apparently, along with Cambridge University, they feel there may comes a point after which it is simply not worth them staying in the state sector, even if they charge the proposed top rate of fee of ₤7,000 a year. 

The 40% cuts that the coalition is proposing for the higher education sector is going to disproportionately hit arts and humanities subjects, and LSE, being a world leader in social and political sciences, will feel the brunt more than most.

A letter signed by the chairman and director of the LSE, sent to Vince Cable regarding his statements on the Browne Report, strongly criticises his emphasis on subjects which provide specific skills, such as science and technology, over others.  The letter states that:

“No case is made in the report to suggest that the teaching of the social sciences, or indeed the humanities, are incapable of providing these skills or providing public benefit.  In fact, the social sciences provide students with many of the high-level and flexible skills desired by employers, including training in rigorous policy analysis, oral and written communication, and problem solving.”

As a history graduate myself, I find the idea that the coalition can have so little regard for subjects such as history, politics, social science and philosophy, deeply troubling, especially since many of members of the government have degrees in just these subjects.  The LSE does not offer any science or technology based courses, but is an institution of world renown that attracts the highest quality of student from the UK and abroad.  They go there because they know that the skills they can learn will be invaluable.

Furthermore, as a Labour representative, I am acutely aware of the role that the London School of Economics and its founders Sydney and Beatrice Webb, played in the early years of my party’s history.  That an institution built on the principles of social democracy and equality is considering becoming a private institution is disturbing, to put it mildly. 

A spokesperson for the LSE made it clear that they had to consider all available options in the light of the spending review.  The coalition is running the risk of putting too much strain on the institutions that make Britain a world leader in higher education. It would certainly not be in the national interest to undermine the excellent standing in which our best universities are held. Britain stands to lose a lot by falling behind in higher education, both at national level where our own students would not have the option of the highest level of learning and internationally where Britain is at the very top of the tree.

The cuts are reckless and regressive.

Labour Party

Many will be left reeling after the revelations of yesterday’s Spending Review, a long list of savage cuts which threaten 500,000 jobs and the welfare of millions. In announcing this strategy, Chancellor George Osborne claimed to be driven by the demands of fairness; if this is true, it is painfully clear that he has a very distorted concept of what ‘fairness’ entails. Few could describe as fair a budget that impacts disproportionately on the poorest half of the nation, slashing already squeezed social housing provision and reducing care provision whilst allowing the City to emerge unscathed. Even The Telegraph readily admits that this is a political budget, shaped by ideological imperatives as much as economic demands.

Already, the plans have prompted a surge of compelling critiques from think-tanks and charities shocked by their regressive implications. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (hardly a voice of radicalism) has warned that the impact on the poorest tenth will be five times that on the richest, Shelter has expressed fears that homelessness will surge, and the Social Market Foundation has pointed out that protecting the schools budget meant big hits for all-important early years services.

Acknowledging all of this is hugely important, but it is also crucial that we include gender in the picture and recognise the particularly pernicious effects these cuts will have on women. As the Fawcett Society outlines, it is women who will be the main losers as jobs are cut, public services are rolled back and benefits are slashed. Of the 500,000 to be cut from the public sector, two thirds will be women and, as primary carers, it is women who will assume the extra burden of responsibility when provision for children and the elderly is scaled back. We must challenge this: if it goes unrecognised, women’s services and benefits will remain a soft target, vulnerable to a Coalition all-too-often governed by expedience.