Chill winds blow over British universities

Wed Dec 23, 2009 6:37am EST
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By Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain's universities are being given an uncomfortable reminder of the depth of the recession as the government slashes their budgets and urges them to focus on degrees that will directly benefit the economy.

That means less of the philosophy and art history and more of the vocational subjects like engineering and law.

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson said he also wants to see universities cut some of their usual three-year courses to two as a way of saving money.

His plans have caused outrage in the groves of academe.

Teaching unions said the announcement was a "Christmas kick in the teeth" that would lead to job cuts and a two-tier education system which benefits privileged students.

But the government said the changes would help cut public spending, make universities more flexible and create more graduates able to contribute to the economic recovery.

"The economic situation is extremely challenging," said Mandelson. "Across the public sector we are all facing difficult choices. We will want some shift away from full-time, three-year places and toward a wider variety of provision."

The higher education budget will fall next year by 533 million pounds ($853.4 million) to 7.3 billion pounds and universities were told to stay within limits for new students.   Continued...

<p>Britain's Business Secretary Peter Mandelson addresses members of the media outside 10 Downing Street in London December 15, 2009. REUTERS/Jas Lehal</p>