RELATIONS between Britain's universities and Lord Mandelson, minister for business and higher education, are not good. With warnings of budget cuts to come the universities are facing a 15 per cent reduction in building funding and perhaps a two per cent cut in teaching allocations. They are making a fuss about this which Peter Mandelson has rejected as “extreme rhetoric”.

No doubt there will be a meeting of minds in due course but in the meantime might it not be worth giving serious consideration to his suggestion that two-year degrees should be introduced with the loss of a third year being made up by shorter vacations, especially in the summer?

In so many ways British universities conduct themselves as if nothing has changed in the outside world in the past half-century. Shorter courses would presumably reduce the escalating costs of the university experience for undergraduates and their parents and they would also make it possible for more students to be accepted over a given period of time. There may be some universities and some subjects for which a change of this kind would not make sense but in the newer universities and in most subjects they could bring advantages. The objections, especially from teaching staff, are easy to predict but the time may be coming when they have to overrriden.