Jane Grenville, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for students, has spoken exclusively to Nouse on the stance of Senior Management within the University towards the approach the Government is taking to higher education funding.
Stressing that the University’s hands are tied in the matter, Grenville outlined the University’s position on the planned rise in tuition fees, and explained that over the past year the University had argued against the funding cuts, but now has to think how best to compensate the impending shortfall in cash.
She described how the Senior Management team at the University does believe that higher education should be publicly funded, but added, “the cuts that are coming are inevitable; there is no possibility that they are going to be rescinded.”
Grenville continued: “We prefer public funding but in the light of what’s going on we’re going to stick to two principles, one is the total excellence of the York education and the other is making sure that education is open to all who are qualified to receive it, regardless of what their family income is, and that means redistributing money.
“So we need to have sufficient income to be able to redistribute money to make sure that we have very good scholarships and bursaries schemes.”
MPs will vote on the lifting of the tuition fee cap on 9th December, but regardless whether it passes, Grenville declared that in finding additional finance: “We are almost bound to use means that are going to be unpalatable to the student body.”
The University has been called on by the students at the York sit-in, currently occupying part of the Exhibition Centre, to release a statement in opposition to the funding cuts and the increase in tuition fees.
However, Grenville stated that: “The University can’t really do anything about it now, but we can continue to deplore it and I don’t think there’s any difficulty over the fact that we haven’t changed our position over that.”
“The Vice-Chancellor wrote a piece in the Guardian in March 2009 and said this isn’t a time to be cutting, this is a time to be investing, so early on, we made a big, a very big public statement about it.”
In the Guardian piece, Brian Cantor, Vice-Chancellor, condemned the lack of a, “financial stimulus package for higher education” and questioned, “where better to invest and place our hopes for the future [than in universities]?”
But since then the University has been relatively quiet in stating its opposition to the government’s plans. Grenville retorted that, “to do it again, now, is just a distraction, it’s too late, we have to work within real politics with these cuts coming.”
The Pro-Vice-Chancellor for students explained the other alternatives to raising tuition fees, which include paying it through income tax or a graduate tax –the latter of which the National Union of Students (NUS) and Ed Miliband, Labour Party leader, prefer.
However, she categorically stated that, “in the end, if it’s between fees and a graduate tax – fees are fair.”
She expanded on her opposition to this, saying: “It’s an additional tax that’s paid by graduates that isn’t necessarily going back into universities, for me the graduate tax is the worst of all, and I did think about it quite hard when the NUS first raised it, and I’ve come to the view that it really is a bad idea.”
On using income tax to fund higher education, Grenville pointed out the low tax rate we have in Britain compared to other countries which pay for higher education through the tax system, commenting: “every time we have a general election we vote for low tax. You can’t have it both ways.”
Grenville made it clear that this meant the University was in a tough position, as there could now be an open market in education which is not what they want. “They [students] are just becoming consumers and customers and if they’re buying an education we will get into all sorts of problems.”
However, she stressed the good points about raising tuition fees, “students become more powerful and universities have their income assured.” Furthermore, the quality of teaching would be improved even further by the rise in tuition fees, “if students perceive themselves as the providers of fees, we become responsive to the student body and teaching goes up the agenda.”
Summarising the University’s position, Grenville commented: “Excellence and access cost money and we’re not going to get that money from the income tax budget. We are not going to cut staff and we are not going to close departments and we are not going to take our support away from arts and humanities – but we are going to charge fees.”