On the need for discretion in discussing HE cuts

Very good piece by David Eastwood in The Guardian.

As he suggests – the cuts being discussed are achievable, perhaps, but hardly desirable. Moreover, they should be a matter for discreet discussion, not broadcast:

Many of us remember the glorious Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen sketch. A quartet of the now-comfortably off, drinking Château de Chasselas, and seeking to outdo one another in recollections of an impoverished childhood. One claims to have lived in a cardboard box. Another immediately counters: “We used to dream of living in a cardboard box”. And so it goes on, ever more preposterous, through eating tar from the road, to getting up to work before you’d gone to bed. (Now that’s something many vice-chancellors can identify with.) And finally the flourish: “If you tell the young people of today that, they won’t believe you”.

Glorious, surreal, and a high point of British social satire. Yet I keep bumping into higher education’s modern reworking of this sketch. I overhear, in the margins of events, one savant saying “We’re modelling 5% cuts”. Another intervenes: “5%, oh, we used to dream of 5%, we’re modelling 10%”; and then another, “10% – luxury! We’re modelling 15%”. And so it goes on, until someone says, without apparent irony, that they are modelling 25%.

Of course, all this might be going on, but is it real and is it helpful to parade it? The cuts to the system in the 1980s were 15%, from a higher baseline of funding, and the consequences were devastating. It took a generation to recover, and the current government should still claim credit for its unprecedented investment in the research base and its courage in legislating for (but not quite introducing) variable fees. The pall of the 1980s cuts hung over the sector for two decades.

Avoiding the posturing would seem to be very sensible advice.