After the massive student protests over Top-up Fees we are now faced with more activism in higher education, this time from lecturers. Concern over pay levels and funding of universities in general have been ignored for so long that the situation has become critical – neither students nor staff have any confidence in government strategies, proven by the massive support for industrial action this week. Charles Clarke told nouse in the last edition that his new proposals would be an “end to the transition period” of upfront fees, and would pave the way for secure and sufficient university funding. But this rings hollow considering recent comments from the Russell group of elite universities, who show a deficit of around 10 billion pounds, nowhere near covered by the new scheme. It seems obvious that within a few years we are going to see more changes to the system, and most likely, more money coming from students themselves.
Media scrutiny has been diverted from the issue by the Hutton enquiry after the initial flurry of headlines, which suits the Government, as any talk of the only real alternative – raising taxes to fund education would be political suicide so close to an election. Consequently there seems little hope of any real debate on the problem until the Government review after two years, irrespective of whether lecturers strike or not. Just as Blair bulldozed his education bill through the Commons, we can’t expect him to listen to lecturers any more than to students.
Following Chris Jones’ landmark victory that will enable the use of on-line voting in future SU debates, union politics reverted to its normal farcical mode last week. A few eyebrows were wearily raised as clubs and societies received emails asking them to back a UGM motion to no-confidence Societies Officer Dave Sammels.
The long-winded message, which came complete with a ten-point list of reasons explaining why the Tory chair should be booted out of his SU exec post, also featured a gaudy snap of the protagonist – none other than Labour man and SU co-treasurer James Alexander himself.
Whilst Alexander, who has worked tirelessly for the SU this year, may have legitimate grievances with Sammels, one does have to question his motivations. If the Societies Officer has really been that bad at his job, surely a responsible person like Alexander should have pulled him up earlier in the year?
E-democracy, for all its potential, will leave us all open to even more of this political one-up-man-ship.
Despite the best of intentions of those involved, GradBall continues to lurch from crisis to crisis, and this issue’s revelations are tantamount to a vindication of the concerns expressed in these pages when the plans were first unveiled before Christmas. Amidst Union accusations of scaremongering on our part and some pretty vitriolic letters, we stated that it was impossible to stage a decent Gradball with a budget of just £55,000. The Union’s sudden about turn proves that we were right. The sweetener for Finalists was that they were promised that ticket prices would be significantly lower than that charged in previous years.