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Bob Rotheram :: Blog :: After the big one

October 04, 2008

Is that it? The last few weeks have seen a major financial earthquake, with banks collapsing, governments shelling out billions and commentators struggling to find sufficiently apocalyptic words. Yet the world is still spinning and I’m promised my money is safe. So that’s all right then.

Maybe not. Analogies can be misleading, but let’s explore a familiar scenario from geology: ‘the big one’ and the aftershocks. A big quake does major damage and terrifies everyone for a short while. The survivors thank their lucky stars, pick themselves up and assume it’s now safe to resume their lives. Of course there’s plenty of danger ahead: the almost inevitable minor tremors cause newly-fragile structures to crumple, perhaps killing and injuring more people than the original earth-shattering event.

If this analogy applies in economics and finance – and the experience of the 1920s and 30s suggests it does – we’re not safe yet. There’s a substantial body of apparently-expert opinion saying that, despite gigantic bail-outs, rescue plans and state-backed guarantees, in the coming months and years many businesses around the world will go under and unemployment will soar. In the UK, it’s highly likely tax revenues will fall and benefit payments will skyrocket. To say the least, our public finances are going to be under great strain.

Why write about this in an Emerge blog? Well, when government looks for cuts, as it surely will, JISC is vulnerable. It’s had a great run in the last few years, with a substantially increased budget and some juicy windfalls. Lots of us have come to love the rich uncle who has funded the pet projects which brighten our working lives. Yes, most of us would say, we’re making a difference; education is a better place with the money JISC channels our way. However, politicians, accountants and managers have priorities. Unfortunately, JISC probably won’t rank as high as the need to support banks, ‘hard-working families’ and nuclear weapons. Watch out, uncle!

What would happen if JISC’s budget were cut sharply in the next year or two? Assuming it doesn’t go to zero, JISC would have to prioritise. My guess is that it would then retreat to its roots, favouring ICT infrastructure projects over the assessment, learning and teaching territory it has colonised recently. Would the equivalent of Sounds Good be funded in 2010? What price ‘Third Life’ when ‘first life’ is screaming for help?


Overview for Keywords: budget cuts, Emerge, JISC

Blogs with Keywords: budget cuts, Emerge, JISC

Posted by Bob Rotheram

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