By-election tests scholars' bottle

April 12, 1996

A snapshot of students' political views will emerge today with the results of a by-election where almost every voter is a scholar.

Higher education was top of the agenda as party candidates contested Oxfordshire County Council's Oxford Central Ward, with an electorate made up of about 6,200 students and a jugful of publicans.

But the victor will find it hard to argue that the outcome is a true reflection of the national picture of student political thinking.

For the line-up did not include a Labour candidate, thanks to the local party's failure to get its nomination in on time.

Nevertheless John Howson, an academic who was standing to defend a Liberal Democrat majority of 35, previously held by the late Jenny Bostock, felt student support for his party's policies was likely to remain strong.

Mr Howson, head of quality assurance for arts and education at Oxford Brookes University, was up against the Green candidate Sushila Devi Dhall, who was hoping to improve on the Greens' second-place result in May 1993; and the Conservative Sheridan Nicholas Westlake, pressing for some serious improvement on his party's last place at the same election.

Mr Howson thought his party's decision to publish the details of its higher education plans, and its attempts to cost them, would stand him in good stead.

And he had an axe or two of his own to grind, including his opposition to universities using students as cheap labour to replace unskilled workers.

"Universities are beginning to replace some of their workers, such as lodge staff, with students. You can understand why they are doing that when budgets are being cut, but they also need to be aware of their social responsibilities," he said.

Other issues which needed to be addressed included the response of employers to graduate employment needs and the cost of housing students who study at institutions far from their homes. But one vital concern appeared to have been neglected by all candidates - the price of a pint.

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