Fees protesters hope as MPs vote

Students step up campaign against coalition plans before Parliament sits. Rebecca Attwood reports

December 9, 2010

Weeks of protests, occupations, lobbying and political wrangling will come to a head this week as MPs vote on the future level of tuition fees.

Mass demonstrations and rebellion on both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative benches have made the issue even more politically toxic for the coalition government than some had predicted. This week saw Tory MP David Davis break ranks by declaring that he will vote against the government's plan to raise the fee cap to £9,000, while several Lib Dem ministers have threatened to resign over the issue.

A day of action on 8 December was due to see protests at universities across the country ahead of a mass demonstration and lobby of MPs on 9 December, the day of the vote. The action is set to culminate in a National Union of Students and University and College Union rally on London's Victoria Embankment and a "candlelit" vigil of 9,000 glow sticks to symbolise the potential fee level.

Occupations at universities across the UK also continued this week.

As Times Higher Education went to press, occupations were taking place at the universities of Brighton, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Plymouth, Sheffield and York, as well as University College London, University College Falmouth, the University of East London, King's College London, London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies.

The New Visions for Education group, whose members include Robin Alexander, director of the Cambridge Primary Review, and Chris Husbands, director-designate of the Institute of Education, has issued a paper declaring the Browne Review to be "a recipe for social and political stratification and inequality".

The paper, written by Roger Brown, professor of higher education policy at Liverpool Hope University, and Carole Leathwood, professor of education at London Met, says the plans offer "a debased view of what universities are for".

Most institutions will find themselves facing a huge cut in public revenue without the ability to recover the lost resources, participation is likely to narrow and the proposals will actually increase public expenditure, the authors argue.

On 6 December, several hundred protesters - many wearing dunce caps - invaded Tate Britain and chanted during the live televised Turner Prize awards ceremony. The winner of the prize, artist Susan Philipsz, declared her support for them in her acceptance speech.

Earlier in the week, a split emerged within Universities UK after vice-chancellors were asked to sign an open letter backing higher fees. During what one vice-chancellor called a "fractious" meeting, the UUK leadership proposed publishing the letter on the eve of the vote.

Some argued strongly against the plan, including Sir Peter Scott of Kingston University and Baroness Blackstone from the University of Greenwich. Despite the dissent, the letter was later emailed to all English vice-chancellors, but a number of them refused to sign.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet, lecturer in terrorism and political violence at the University of Manchester, was due to appear in court this week charged with assaulting a police officer at a student protest.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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