College leads growing protest

November 15, 2002

A Cambridge University college has expressed "distaste" for top-up fees as the university prepares to restate its position on the issue.

Cambridge is today expected to oppose the charging of differential fees, in contrast to some other Russell Group universities.

Churchill College Council expressed its "deep distaste and anxiety" over the possibility of the university charging students fees after the junior common room presented a paper at last week's meeting.

Churchill - considered to be one of the more liberal colleges, with three-quarters of its students educated in state schools and colleges - is the first college to openly declare its opposition to fees.

Senior tutor Alan Findlay said: "We conceded that universities do face a major financial crisis and that of all the various solutions, top-up fees were alarming and the least favoured. The council said that all other possible avenues should be thoroughly explored and would be preferable.

"JCR president Alasdair Young said that the college master, Sir John Boyd, had discussed the outcome with vice-chancellor Sir Alec Broers. He added: "We have an opportunity through the college to influence the university at a high level.

"Gonville and Caius College has also held discussions, but said it would not take a position until the government's higher education strategy is revealed.

Other college student common rooms are expected to present similar statements of opposition  to their councils in the next few weeks. The discussions dovetail with a university-wide campaign urging the university to reject top-up fees.

Cambridge University Student Union president Paul Lewis presented a paper to the university council on Monday, proposing that it urge the government to think of other alternatives to address the funding crisis.

During the council's meeting, over 2,000 students, staff and some academics congregated outside for a "Big Noise" protest, armed with trombones, guitars, drums and saucepans.

The demonstration contrasted with the Imperial College London students' silent protest outside the college's council, which agreed to charge top-up fees if given the go-ahead by government.

Afterwards, Mr Lewis said the paper was well received. "I'm very happy given that we know where Imperial and other universities stand on this." Mr Lewis was due to meet with Sir Alec to jointly draft the new statement.

Cambridge had tried to shake off suggestions that it wants to charge fees of £3,000. Three weeks ago, after CUSU mobilised alumni to condemn top-up fees, it issued a statement saying: "The University of Cambridge, at present, has no plans to introduce top-up fees.

"The Aldwych Group of students at Russell Group universities said top-up fees would create more problems than they solved. The group believes that top-up fees would deter poorer students and that a graduate tax would also be unfair because graduates could pay more overall for their tuition.

The Aldwych Group is pressing for free education on the grounds that, while the average graduate earns £400,000 more than the average non-graduate, some £160,000 of this goes to the Treasury.

The group has produced a paper arguing that graduates are less likely to use state provision for healthcare, education and pensions and more likely to pay higher taxes due to their higher propensity to consume.
   

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