May 1997 was an exciting time for many – the Labour party back in power after many years in opposition – and one of the key mantras back then was “Education, education, education”. And despite the many failings of the New Labour experiment we did see significant investments in education with even the Daily Telegraph acknowledging that “Education spending increased from £36 billion in 1996/97 to £56.9 billion in 2006” and giving the (qualified) conclusion of “Good“.

And during my time at UKOLN (which began shortly before the Labour party came to power) I have noticed how the public sector investment in JISC has been the envy of many of those working in higher education in other counties, such as the US, Canada, Australia and mainland Europe.

But yesterday a feature article in The Guardian had the headline “Universities tell Gordon Brown: cuts will bring us to our knees“:

Top universities accuse Gordon Brown of jeopardising 800 years of higher education, warning that they could quickly be “brought to their knees” by the government’s spending cuts of up to £2.5bn, thereby damaging Britain’s ability to recover from recession.

Back in August 2008 I wrote my first post which warned that economic difficulties were likely to have a significant impact on the higher education sector: “In his talk [John Selby, HEFCE] praised the work of the JISC and the JISC Services, but went on to warn of troubled financial times ahead for the educational sector. The glory days of the past 10 years are over, he predicted.“Subsequent posts on “Who Is Suffering In The Economic Downturn?“, “Britain Faces Worst Year Since 1930s” and “Is It Really A Good Time To Be Asking For More IT Money?” touched on the implications of the recession on use of IT across higher education.

It’s quite clear – we can’t ignore the implications of how the recession will affect the IT environment. Will we see a move towards consolidation? Or is there a need for innovation? Will we see a great move towards use of Cloud Services to replace or complement services traditionally carried out in-house? Or our such Cloud Services themselves at risks? Will be see significant losses of staff within the sector and how would such changes affect IT development activities? And what of digital preservation – even more important at a time when services are likely to close, or a luxury which can only be considered during a time of growth?

I don’t think there are easy answers – but I will try and explore such issues in future posts. And I would be interested in your views on how cuts to the higher education sector’s budget are likely to affect IT development work.