Oxford evicts fee protesters

November 19, 1999

Student unrest over tuition fees re-emerged this week as protesters were evicted from Oxford University's development office after a weekend occupation.

The university won High Court permission on Monday to remove about 35 students from the building who were protesting against "heavy-handed" and "aggressive" policies against 80 Oxford students who have refused to pay fees.

They said the university's decision to disqualify non-payers from sitting exams and not count them as being in residence was contrary to the government's call for institutions to be "sensitive and flexible" in collecting fees.

The students claimed to have the support of 200 others at the university and student union leaders at Cambridge, Goldsmiths, East London and Bradford.

Daniel Maudsley, a second-year at Lady Margaret Hall who is refusing to pay "on principle", said: "We are appalled that the university is taking such a heavy-handed approach rather than entering into formal negotiations with non-payers. Some students can't pay their fees, so we won't pay until the university agrees to a less aggressive policy."

Jo Geater, president of the student union at Bradford, where students have been told they cannot enter their second year if they have not paid fees, said:

"Institutions such as Bradford have been put in a difficult position by fees because they have students who cannot afford to pay."

A spokesman for the National Union of Students added: "We urge vice chancellors to pay attention to the government's call for sensitivity. There is no need to hound students who are having genuine problems paying."

But there was no sign that Oxford was prepared to change its position. A spokesman said: "The university's regulations for the collection of fees ensures that students can find assistance or make appropriate arrangements in cases of genuine financial difficulty."

Students this week demonstrated in Belfast to demand an end to fees. The NUS-Union of Students in Ireland condemned plans to boost lifelong learning as hypocritical and inconsistent. The Department of Education for Northern Ireland has announced Pounds 31.5 million to promote lifelong learning, but NUS-USI convener Shane Whelehan said: "These plans fail to take account of the disincentives to continuing education inherent in the tuition-fees regime."

Stirling University students this week won their battle for a customised loans payment scheme. They had rejected a revamped set of payment dates announced last month, claiming that it benefited only first and second-year students and failed to address third and fourth-year difficulties.

The Student Loans Company, the Student Awards Agency for Scotland and the Scottish Executive have agreed to a revised payment system.

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