Willetts Left out in the cold

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Students and lecturers gathered outside St Peter’s college to protest against Minister of State for Universities, David Willetts, speaking in the chapel.

The demonstration, arranged by the Oxford arm of the Education Activist Network, saw over 150 people assemble to express their lack of confidence in Willetts and his cuts agenda, with students chanting:  “David Willetts, you’re not funny, give us back our fucking money.”

The Education Minister was prevented from speaking for more than ten minutes in total as the opening of his speech was drowned by cries of “scum, scum, scum” and he was repeatedly interrupted by noise from the crowds outside.

A sympathiser inside the chapel confirmed that the chant “David Willetts get out, we know what you’re all about, cuts, job losses, money for the bosses” could be clearly heard in the chapel as the minister tried to make his speech.

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Nathan Akehurst, a second-year History and Politics student from Lincoln College was among the campaigners. He said: “I’m here today because last year the University passed a vote of No Confidence in David Willetts. In a flagrant violation of that he has turned up today and it’s important that whenever he turns up, students send him the message that we reject his policies for Higher Education.

“We believe him and his government are doing untold damage to the Higher Education sector.”

In a speech to the crowd, Akehurst added: “I hope we’ve made David Willett’s afternoon hell. Did he really have the gall to think he could come here and speak unopposed? We’ve shown him that he will be met by the voices of the students and tutors whose wages he’s cut, whose fees he’s raised, whose bursaries he’s destroyed.”

Another student, John from Lady Margaret Hall, said: “It’s important to show that we’re not just a passive force and that students are able to be a part of politics. We believe in a fair education system, not one that’s going to favour the rich or discourage working-class students.”

Simon from Ruskin College was demonstrating because he shares John’s belief in an equal education system. He said: “In a few years when I have children and they ask me why they can’t go to University or have the same opportunities as a rich family, I would feel like a bastard if I hadn’t tried to do something about it.”

Nick Evans, a first year DPhil student at Wadham College pointed out: “Although Willetts took the Higher Education White Paper off the agenda, he’s clearly trying to push it through the back door.”

Evans added: “Even in a university like Oxford which might look quite protected, we’ve seen that 70 jobs have been lost by librarians over the last few years.”

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Staff members from Oxford University were also represented in the demonstration. Penny Schenk  who works in the Law Library, said: “I’ve been in the UK for ten years and I know what it’s like in the States where it’s hard to get an education because it’s very expensive.

“I was horrified when [higher] fees came in within the UK and was at the demonstration outside parliament the day of the tuition fees vote where I was kettled.”

She added: “I feel [for] this cause very strongly. I think it’s a scandal not to put money into education and the future.”

Robin Hanford, a fresher at Ruskin College, said: “If I were David Willetts, I’d have to acknowledge that I’ve got some very backward ideas!”

He added:  “What I think he needs to do is to go back into education; there are plenty of good adult education colleges in Oxford!”

However not everyone was in favour of the protest; students working in St Peters library were angered when their studies were interrupted by the campaigners.

During the protest, Bruce Guest who studies Economics and Management at St Peter’s emerged, shouting at the demonstrators for preventing him finishing his essay in time for his deadline at six.

Bruce said: “I’m trying to do my fucking work in the library-this is so out of order. Look, can you do it at some other time? Look how many people are up there trying to fucking work! It’s ridiculous!”

The response from one of the dissenters was equally as heated. She called Bruce selfish, and answered: “You’re trying to write one essay and David Willetts is responsible for fucking up education for thousands and thousands of students. One night, or thousands of people – use your fucking brain.”

The fight against current Higher Education policies will continue on the 21st November when Oxford students will join others from across the country in London to reiterate Friday’s message of No Confidence to the Government.

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