Mass student protests over Browne Review proposals

As students nationwide are rallying against the funding cuts and fee rises to higher education institutions, Nouse investigates the reaction on campus

The demonstration finished in Parliament St where YUSU President, Tim Ngwena gave a speech to the crowd. Photo credit: Sam Newsome

The demonstration finished in Parliament St where YUSU President, Tim Ngwena gave a speech to the crowd. Photo credit: Sam Newsome

Mass student demonstrations have been planned nation and campus-wide over the coming weeks, in protest against The Browne Review’s controversial proposals for Higher Education (HE) funding.

The Browne Review, which aims to “secure a sustainable future for higher education”, has proposed a complete removal of the current tuition fee cap of £3,290, thus advocating a free market in Higher Education.

Direct Government funding will be removed from all except “priority” subjects, such as Nursing and the sciences, whilst overall, HE funding will be cut by approximately 40 per cent.

Senior figures at the University have spoken out in support of the proposed demonstrations.

Although Pro-Vice Chancellor for Students Jane Grenville could not comment on whether the University supports or opposes The Browne Review recommendations, she confirmed that “departments have been asked to take a lenient view regarding the absence of students from academic activities on 10 November, in view of the NUS protest in London”.

One demonstration took place in York City Centre on Saturday, whilst the National Union of Students (NUS) organised protest march is taking place in London on 10 November.

“Privatisation of education is the biggest social evil this country can face. Education and health, no matter the state of the economy, must be very carefully organised to allow equal opportunities to all”
Oliver Black-Hawkins
Langwith College Student

Tim Ngwena, YUSU President, has played a key role in organising the transport of York students down to London to participate in this demonstration.

According to Ngwena, the NUS has allocated £500 to the York area to spend on transporting students down to the NUS national demonstration.

YUSU, along with the University teaching staff union, UCU and York St John’s University, have ordered five coaches to transport students from York to the London demonstration, which may potentially be increased to six.

So far, over 500 students have expressed interest in attending the London demonstration, each paying a £10 refundable deposit for their coach seat.

As well as the increase in fees, many fear that the drastic cuts in direct funding to universities will lead to cuts in student activities.

According to Sam Asfahani, York Sport President, “funding for student activities such as Sports clubs, will be the first thing to be cut as they don’t come under the academic realm. Many members of University Sports clubs who will not be available to participate in the protest because of sporting fixture commitments have organised their own demonstrations.”

Sam Clitheroe, President of the University of York Football Club, said it was crucial for his club to “show our support for the protests against higher education funding cuts”.

A march in York City Centre last Saturday, to protest against various governmental funding cuts to areas such as Higher Education and teaching. Photo credit: Sam Newsome

Laura Pepper, President of the Women’s Hockey Club, agreed that “budget cuts will only hinder students, potentially leading to higher subscription fees and deterring students from participating”, adding that “hockey club will be supporting the demolition march in any way we can”.

URY Station Manager, Oliver Julian, raised further fears for humanity based societies, stating: “Cutting funding for student activities in a world where experience matters would be very detrimental to graduates.”

In response to a Nouse inquiry into their views on The Reviews’ recommendations, political societies on campus have broadly followed their ‘party line’ on the issue.
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Indeed, Felix Bungay, Chair of the University of York Conservatives, made a statement in direct opposition to any protests against the Review, branding it “inexcusable for YUSU to waste student’s money on a protest”.

Bungay said that students had “no democratic mandate…to dictate higher education policy to the Government. The Government will not bow to protestors who seek to challenge the democratic legitimacy the Government has in making this decision”.

He continued to say he hoped that “the Government, being democratically elected, [will] ignore the cries of several thousand students”.

However, James Whiteside, Chair of York University Liberal Democrats, admitted that his party was only supporting the proposals because they, “did not win the general election and had to enter into a coalition where you can not get everything you want”.

He continued: “If members of our society wish to join the protests then it is their decision and I’m sure many of them will do.”

Indeed, Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minster of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, yesterday expressed his regret that his party had had to ditch their pre-election committment to scrapping tuition fees.

Clegg said Browne’s proposals were yet to be finalised but he didn’t “think there [was] any prospect of completely unlimited fees”.

Cat Wayland, Chair of Labour Club, stated: “We are happy to see that YUSU has taken the measures it has to, and is providing free coach places to London for the NUS Demo-Lition.”

“Education is a public good and should not be bought and sold. I’m still in shock. I can’t believe they are doing this. We knew an axe was coming, but this is a remarkable outcome that changes the face of Higher Education policy irrevocably.”
Jane Grenville
Pro-Vice Chancellor for Students

YUSU have set up a ‘feedback forum’ for students to voice their opinions on the proposals. Ngwena said: “We’ve had 131 comments on the online feedback forum… When we set it up, I only expected one-line answers, but people are literally typing essays.”

Indeed, one student commenting anonymously on the forum, said: “­The University system is reverting back to a mixture of elitism and discrimination.”

Ngwena said that a free market in fees would “change the dynamics of Higher Education.” He continued: “Lots of universities will no longer see HE as a journey of fulfillment, but as a commercial entity.” However, according to Grenville, “we live in a democracy. The country voted and you have to live with what the majority asked for. We just have to grit our teeth and get on with it.”

One second-year Philosophy student, Oliver Black-Hawkins, described student protests as “crucial”, stating: “Privatisation of education is the biggest social evil this country can face. Education is the most fundamental of human rights.”

He continued: “If England wants to resemble a state of meritocracy, as opposed to elitism, we must offer a free and equal education to all. Education and health, no matter the state of the economy, must be very carefully organised to allow equal opportunities to all.”

However, another Jam­es College student, who asked not to be named, described Lord Browne’s proposals as “the best of a bad lot.”

She stated: “The Government has to make cuts in every sector. Why should education be any different? If the Government can’t afford to fund us then obviously we will have to fund ourselves. As long as adequate grant money will be given to poorer students, then I really don’t see it as a huge problem.”

The Sports Clubs
“Student activities, such as funding for Sports clubs, will be the first thing to be cut.”
Sam Asfahani, York Sport President

The Societies
“Cutting funding for student activities in a world where experience matters would be a very detrimental to graduates.”
Oliver Julian, URY Station Manager

The Political Societies
“The Government, being democratically elected, [will] ignore the cries of several thousand students.”
Felix Bungay, Chair of the University of York Conservatives

Students
“Privatisation of education is the biggest social evil this country faces.”
Oliver Black-Hawkins, Langwith College Sudent

The University
“Education is a public good and should not be bought and sold. I have to admit I am stunned at the depth of the cuts.”
Jane Grenville, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Students

York University Students’ Union (YUSU)
“A free market in fees will change the dynamics of Higher Education… lots of Universities will no longer see HE as a journey of fulfilment but as a commercial entity.”
Tim Ngwena, YUSU President

The National Union of Students (NUS)
“This is a devastating blow to higher and further education that puts the future of colleges and universities at risk and will have repercussions for the future prospects of students.”
Aaron Porter, NUS President

York Council’s Labour Councillor and ex-YUSU President, James Alexander, has said that Browne’s proposals would have “a devastating effect on those from lower socio-economic backgrounds hoping to obtain places at top universities such as the University of York.”

Ngwena agreed, commenting: “The new plans will affect the diversity of students. The poor get bursaries and the rich can afford it; those in the middle get nothing.”

He continued: “At the moment we have a really good mix of students. We only take 28 per cent of students from a public school background. We have 28 per cent international students and a lot of postgraduates. When you change the fee system, the mix changes.” He continued to say that “if the proposals are passed, Oxbridge will charge around £20,000 per annum, to compete with Harvard. This would push diverse students away.”

When asked if the University intended on drastically raising its fees to compete with elite universities such as Harvard and Oxbridge, Grenville said: “We can’t say anything about fees…we need to think about our market position before we make any decisions.” She continued: “We don’t want a funding regime where there are people who are qualified for an education at York but can’t come here because of economic circumstances… I would be very worried if students did not protest against the proposals.”

However, she continued to say that “there is a danger that if York only charges very low fees then students will say ‘Why go to York? – if it’s so cheap compared to the other universities, it can’t be very good. We’ll need to think hard about how to fund a support package for students from less well off families.”

Grenville said that in her personal opinion “Higher Education is a public good and should not be bought and sold. I have to admit I am stunned at the depth of the cuts. We knew an axe was coming, but this is a remarkable outcome that changes the face of Higher Education policy irrevocably.”­

NUS London Demonstration: 10.11.10: ‘Demo-Lition’
To express interest in your free coach seat to the London protest, visit: www.yusu.org/demo2010

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