Dons agree with Oxford movement: ‘no confidence’ in Willetts

Academics at the University of Oxford have voted through a motion of “no confidence” in David Willetts, the universities and science minister.

June 7, 2011

Following a debate in congregation – Oxford’s “parliament of dons” – 283 people voted in favour of a motion, known as a resolution, instructing the university’s council to “communicate to government that the University of Oxford has no confidence in the policies of the minister for higher education”.

Only five voted against.

Although the number taking part in the vote was a small proportion of the 4,500 members of congregation – which is made up of academic and administrative staff – the vote will be seen as a powerful symbolic message to Mr Willetts.

It follows a movement against the government’s reforms by a number of academics and students at Oxford, who have also started a nationwide campaign to urge more academic bodies to put forward no-confidence motions in the minister.

Academics at the University of Cambridge have already tabled their own motion of no confidence, which could be voted on in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, students and staff at the University of Warwick have also formed a campaign group and have opened a petition expressing a lack of confidence in Mr Willetts. The group claims to have already collected 700 signatures.

Gareth Thomas, Labour’s shadow universities minister, said the Oxford vote was “devastating and unprecedented”.

“David Cameron and George Osborne should not be surprised by this vote. It is their economic policy and the demand for cuts in higher education, far higher than in any other area of the public sector, which has caused this debacle,” he said.

David Barclay, president of the Oxford University Student Union, said: “Today the call has gone out loud and clear that neither students nor academics will accept the market agenda that this government is trying to rush through.

“Having promised when he became universities minister to listen and learn from his sector, David Willetts has been resoundingly told that now is the time to listen, and now is the time to learn.”

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “Universities have always been bastions of free speech and debate.

“However, our student and university finance reforms are fairer than the present system and affordable for the nation.

“No student will be asked to pay upfront costs; there will be more financial support for poorer students; and those who go on to earn the highest incomes will make the largest contributions after they have graduated. Our reforms put students in the driving seat while putting universities on a sustainable footing for the future.”

simon.baker@tsleducation.com

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