Student activists set sights on v-cs

Left-wing groups plan to greet UUK meeting with pickets and walkouts. John Morgan reports

February 17, 2011

Credit: Janine Wiedel Photography/Alamy
Voicing protest: students set to call on vice-chancellors to resist fee rises

Vice-chancellors face a "mass picket" of their national meeting by student activists amid criticism of those leaders who supported the trebling of tuition fees.

Left-wing groups behind recent student protests and occupations are planning to target the Universities UK members' meeting, to be held in London on 24 February, as part of a nationwide day of campus protests and walkouts.

One of the groups involved, the Education Activist Network (EAN), states on its website: "Walkouts and protests in London will converge in a mass picket of the Universities UK conference."

It adds: "Now that Parliament has voted to lift the cap on tuition fees, it is the vice-chancellors and university managers who will decide how much to charge new students."

The EAN, which has close links to the UCU Left group, says "these are the same bosses who are pushing through the attacks on staff" and that "most are now paid around a quarter of a million pounds".

Mark Bergfeld, an EAN spokesman and the Left candidate for the National Union of Students presidency, said: "One of the main focuses of the day is simply going to be calling on vice-chancellors to resist the fee rises rather than implement them."

Mr Bergfeld said vice-chancellors "did not stand up for the defence of higher education" in the period before the Commons voted to raise fees.

He noted that an open letter urging MPs to support the fee rise and published the day before the vote had been signed by the majority of vice-chancellors on the UUK board.

The signatories said that while they had "consistently opposed the disproportionate cuts to higher education funding", the fee proposals were "reasonable" and the alternative was damage to social mobility through reduced student numbers.

Three vice-chancellors on the UUK board refused to sign the open letter, joining other heads - all from post-1992 universities - in putting their names to a second letter that urged the government to restore some teaching funding rather than raise fees.

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat president and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, said after the vote that he was "absolutely furious with the vice-chancellors as a cadre". He accused them of accepting funding cuts in exchange for higher fees, and called them "spineless".

A UUK spokesman said: "We are aware of plans by some to protest outside Universities UK later this month." He added that UUK "opposed the disproportionate cuts to the higher education budget from the outset".

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