Willett be all over for Minister?

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Over 150 Oxford academics have demanded a vote of no confidence in Universities Minister David Willets this week.

Dons submitted the motion to the Registrar following calls to take action against the Coalition at last Wednesday’s Congregation meeting.  As of the 17th May, it has gained the support of 177 tutors. The motion states that the concerned academics “have no confidence in the policies of the Minister for Higher Education.”

The Minister shocked universities last week with a proposal to create extra course places for higher fee paying students. Willetts has already been forced to delay his White Paper reforms twice following opposition from the education sector.

Vice Chancellor Andrew Hamilton is required to determine whether the motion is “admissible,” or not a “topic of concern” for the central University.

A source close to the University said Hamilton is likely to deem the motion admissible on the 19th May, although this is yet to be confirmed. If he does, the University Council will still have to decide whether to oppose the motion in a formal debate against Congregation.

OUSU President David Barclay is “delighted” that the University is resisting the Government’s “dangerous and rapidly unravelling plans for Higher Education”. He also condemned the “toxic consumerism” of the Coalitions’ higher education plans and urged students to “join together now and make our voices heard.”

Barclay said: “This is a truly historic moment for Oxford. As a history student, it’s hard not to be reminded of the last time Oxford stood up so dramatically to the Government by refusing to award Margaret Thatcher an honorary degree in 1985. There is still some way to go though before we get the debate that I think we need to have, as Council must first establish a position on the motion and then there will be a time for amendments by any two academics. This is certainly just the beginning of the story.”

Numerous college JCRs are showing solidarity with their tutors. New College’s President Andrew Hood welcomed the decision, regarding the vote as “an excellent platform for Oxford to articulate an alternative vision of higher education” which would encourage the government to “reconsider its proposals, as professionals within the health services seem to have done.”

St John’s JCR has already passed a motion in support of the resolution, and hope that several others will reciprocate in meetings this Sunday. President James Messling called the vote “a once in a generation opportunity” to give a “clear and united message” to the government.

Messling said: “The biggest concerns motivating our support are, firstly, our initial dissatisfaction with Government’s higher education policy, specifically on university funding and access to higher education, and secondly, that that policy has itself broken down, with average level of fees well over the £7,200 prediction, thus failing to save money.

“The White Paper has taken months to appear, leaving Universities working in the dark, and David Willetts’ comments last week removed what little trust was left in Higher Education Policy.”

St Anne’s College History Professor Howard Hotson said it would be “a mistake” to see the motion as “merely an historic moment in Oxford’s history.” He added: “Prompted by global economic competition and accelerated by the financial crisis of 2008, the marketization of university education is taking place across the country and around the world at shocking speed.

Oxford is uniquely well placed to begin building opposition to this fundamentally misguided policy not only because of its standing but primarily because we and Cambridge are the only great medieval universities left in which ultimate sovereignty remains vested in academics themselves.”

Oxford University Campaign for Higher Education (OUCHE!) had warned at Congregation that the government’s plans would have “profoundly damaging consequences” for Higher Education in the UK.

1st Year PPE student John Glanville said the vote was a “major step forward” for the University: “I agree with them completely: while in theory the off-quota fees system could be administered in such a way as to not compromise the quality of education offered at Oxford, in reality it incentivises the provision of off-quota places at the expense of quota places with a capped per-student income to the University, resulting in a selection not for the most able, but the most able to pay if the university took it up, they’d be saying that the best-off can skip the risks of UCAS and having to fight it out like the rest of us.”

A spokesperson for David Willetts declined to comment on the matter.