Willetts talk attracts demo

National News News University News

A demonstration against a David Willetts talk on Friday in St Peter’s College is being organised by the Oxford University campaign for higher education alongside lecturers and students involved in the No Confidence campaign.

Willetts is due to take part in a symposium chaired by Andrew Marr on the subject of how language shapes public debate in the College chapel 5-6.30pm.

However supporters of the No Confidence campaign have called for a protest to declare a continued lack of confidence in the Higher Education policies of the Government.

Such objection to Willetts speaking in Oxford comes in light of the motion of no confidence passed almost unanimously with 283 votes to five by the University’s Congregation on 7th June 2011.

Emeritus Fellow of Worcester College Bernard Sufrin was present at the founding of the No Confidence movement and confirmed his attendance at the demonstration this Friday. He said: “I support the movement because it provides a means for students, their parents, and academics to voice their serious doubts about the effects of the carelessly- and haphazardly-introduced policies of funding universities and students.”

Sufrin was keen to make clear that the position of the University is not one of no confidence in Willetts-the-individual, but of the Higher Education policies of the Government in general. He explained: “Mr Willets is replaceable, but its government policies that have put at risk the whole of the ecosystem of Higher Education, and they need rethinking.”

Charlie Louth, Fellow and Tutor at Queens College, was also a supporter of the campaign at the Congregation debate. He said: “I think the government’s policies are wrong-headed and that it is important that the universities shape education policy rather than just bow to it.”

The Oxford division of the National Campaign continues to unite academics and students together in the fight for the future of higher education. Currently the online petition has 421 signatories, many of whom will be taking part in the protest on Friday.

Shozab Raza, a second-year graduate anthropologist at St Antony’s College, will be among the campaigners. He explained his objection to Willetts:  “His higher education policies have included raising tuition fees to £9,000 and the slashing of public teaching grants. These policies have made higher education increasingly inaccessible to students and encouraged its marketisation and privatisation.”

Raza added: “We have motions going through different colleges to support the demonstration; at my college a motion has already been passed.” The motion at St Antony’s passed at a general college meeting with a clear majority of 14 votes to five.

Another student demonstrating said: “The Government has a responsibility to ensure social mobility. Raising tuition fees to such high levels has in my experience had the effect of putting off talented sixth formers from poorer backgrounds from applying to University. In this way the Government is promoting a social divide between those who can and cannot access Higher Education.”

This restriction of access is also a key concern of Sufrin. He said: “The chaotic and impoverished funding arrangements for graduate studentships will result in a dearth of well-qualified active researchers capable of becoming University teachers.”

Sufrin added: “It is notable that these socially divisive policies, passed in the name of making economies, will be more costly to the taxpayers as a whole over 30 years than the policies they have replaced.

“If the government doesn’t know this then they have an incompetent higher education team; if they do know this then they are shamelessly enacting yet another socially divisive policy.”