Grace and disfavour: Willetts earns Oxford and Cambridge no-confidence votes

A campaign for a nationwide vote of “no confidence” in the government’s higher education reforms has been launched by a group of academics and students at the University of Oxford.

June 1, 2011

The movement urges student unions and academic bodies across the country to put forward motions expressing no confidence in the policies of David Willetts, the universities and science minister.

It follows the tabling of such a motion by academics at Oxford and comes as almost 150 University of Cambridge dons signed their own “grace” of no confidence in Mr Willetts’ policies.

A statement on the campaign group’s website - www.noconfidence.org.uk – claims that the government’s higher education policy is “financially chaotic and unsustainable”.

It adds that cuts of 80 per cent to the teaching grant in England will leave universities “systematically underfunded”, even after higher tuition fees are taken into account.

The statement says recent government “U-turns” prove policy is in disarray, and that the academic profession has “never been less attractive” because of the debts students will build up over the course of undergraduate and postgraduate study.

Kate Tunstall, lecturer in French and a Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, said: “We’ve set up the site because we know that huge numbers of colleagues across the higher education sector have no confidence in the policies of the minister for universities.

“How could they have? The policies are destroying the country’s most valuable, competitive and successful remaining cultural, intellectual, economic and social assets.”

She added that the idea was to help academics and students at other universities that did not have the same democratic governance structure as Oxford to make their voices heard.

Oxford will hold a debate on its own academics’ recent no confidence motion – which was signed by more than 170 people – during a meeting of Congregation, the university’s “parliament,” on 7 June.

David Barclay, president of the Oxford University Student Union, said: “The No Confidence campaign is a way of giving a voice to the anger and disillusionment felt in campuses up and down the country. It is particularly exciting to see the collaboration between students and academics, which marks a whole new phase in the battle over the future of higher education.”

The motion submitted at Cambridge could also lead to a debate in its assembly, the Regent House, although there is some disquiet at the institution that a grace – essentially a legislative tool – has been used in such a way.

However, writing on the website of the Cambridge Defend Education campaign group, poet Jeremy Prynne, life Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, said it was a “critical moment” to submit such a motion because the government’s White Paper is just weeks away.

simon.baker@tsleducation.com

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