Why Cable is right to fight back against university cuts

The UK already invests less in higher education than every other OECD member state except Japan.

One of the cabinet ministers yet to settle with the Treasury over cuts in next week's Spending Review is Vince Cable, with Rachel Sylvester reporting in her Times column this morning that the Business Secretary is "refusing to agree cuts in higher education", which accounts for by far the largest share of his budget. 

Cable recently argued that "in a rational world" we would be increasing funding on universities, - and he was right to do so. Even before the recent cuts to higher education, which will total 40 per cent by 2015, the UK was one of the lowest spenders in the OECD (see graph). As a proportion of GDP, we spent less in 2009 (the most recently available figures) than every OECD country except Japan (just 0.6%). 

Canada (1.5%), France (1.3%), Poland (1.1%), Finland (1.8%) and Sweden (1.6%) all spend more than twice as much as we do. Even the US, where private tuition fees average $28,946, spends 1% of its GDP on universities - 0.4% more than the UK. 

The situation is little better when we take into account private investment, which amounts to 0.7%. In total, the UK spends 1.3% on higher education, less than every other OECD member state except Slovakia (0.9%) and Italy (1%). 

Yet unless the government adopts the politically unpalatable course of raising the tuition fee cap, university funding is set to be cut by as much as 8 per cent (and potentially even more if the science budget remains ring-fenced). The situation is not aided by the government's economically disastrous immigration cap, which will cost the sector hundreds of millions by shutting out new foreign students. Let us hope, then, that what Cable described as the "rational argument for government investment" in research and teaching prevails. 

Vince Cable addresses delegates at the annual CBI conference in London on November 19, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Donald Trump's healthcare failure could be to his advantage

The appearance of weakness is less electorally damaging than actually removing healthcare from millions of people.

Good morning. Is it all over for Donald Trump? His approval ratings have cratered to below 40%. Now his attempt to dismantle Barack Obama's healthcare reforms have hit serious resistance from within the Republican Party, adding to the failures and retreats of his early days in office.

The problem for the GOP is that their opposition to Obamacare had more to do with the word "Obama" than the word "care". The previous President opted for a right-wing solution to the problem of the uninsured in a doomed attempt to secure bipartisan support for his healthcare reform. The politician with the biggest impact on the structures of the Affordable Care Act is Mitt Romney.

But now that the Republicans control all three branches of government they are left in a situation where they have no alternative to Obamacare that wouldn't either a) shred conservative orthodoxies on healthcare or b) create numerous and angry losers in their constituencies. The difficulties for Trump's proposal is that it does a bit of both.

Now the man who ran on his ability to cut a deal has been forced to make a take it or leave plea to Republicans in the House of Representatives: vote for this plan or say goodbye to any chance of repealing Obamacare.

But that's probably good news for Trump. The appearance of weakness and failure is less electorally damaging than actually succeeding in removing healthcare from millions of people, including people who voted for Trump.

Trump won his first term because his own negatives as a candidate weren't quite enough to drag him down on a night when he underperformed Republican candidates across the country. The historical trends all make it hard for a first-term incumbent to lose. So far, Trump's administration is largely being frustrated by the Republican establishment though he is succeeding in leveraging the Presidency for the benefit of his business empire.

But it may be that in the failure to get anything done he succeeds in once again riding Republican coattails to victory in 2020.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.