Postal vote forced on top-up fees

May 2, 2003

Do wealthy colleges give students a richer experience? Claire Sanders reports

Oxford's parliament of dons is to vote by post on a motion critical of top-up fees.

The motion, proposed by two academics and supported by the Oxford University Student Union, says that top-up fees will damage access. It was first put to congregation in late March and overturned in favour of a university amendment arguing that 18-year-olds should contribute to the cost of their higher education.

The 50 signatures necessary for a postal vote have been collected but the results of the vote will not be announced until May 8 - after the consultation on the white paper finishes. Congregation is made up of about 3,500 academics.

Students are angry that their views have in effect been ignored. Will Straw, president of the OUSU, said: "The disrespect the university has shown its students is a disgrace. The fact that less than 3 per cent of the electorate were present shows that the outcome of the debate cannot be said to be representative of the university as a whole."

A spokesperson for the university said: "At the debate in congregation, students were fully represented - two out of the ten speakers were students."

Mike Woodin, a psychology lecturer at Balliol College and one of the original proposers, said: "Many academics may see top-up fees as inevitable and so will not vote against them. But we think it is important to register a protest."

Mr Straw said: "The vice-chancellor has told me that if the motion is passed in its original form, he will write to the secretary of state for education notifying him of the university's position. Fees would go ahead anyway, but the university's opposition would be noted."

Academics and students at Wadham College have issued a joint and highly critical response to the white paper.

"While the abolition of upfront fees is welcomed, it is felt that differential fees, albeit deferred, could be an even greater barrier to entry into higher education," the response says.

John Fleming, CBE, warden of the college said: "I am pleased that once again we have been able to take a collective view and not been divided from our students in our response to a government initiative."

Mr Straw said: "Wadham has always been at the forefront of OUSU's campaign against fees, and I hope that their joint approach will inspire other colleges to come out against the white paper."

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