A group of approximately 40 students from local universities and colleges confronted Universities Minister David Willetts MP outside the annual Lord Dearing conference on “The Globalization of Higher Education” held at Nottingham University. After trying to present the minister with a set of proposals from students about alternatives to the cuts that had been drawn on a banner, a number of the group engaged him in argument about the cuts to Higher Education and the fees being raised in universities across the country.
When confronted by female students with the charge that the cuts will hit Women the hardest, Willetts tried to argue the cuts were “progressive”. He claimed that women were less likely to have to pay back student loans, because they would be less likely to earn over the £21,000 threshold for repayment, heard to acknowledge that; “a lot of women will never earn enough to pay back their loans”. The students then politely suggested that the minister acquire a dictionary to familiarize himself with the term “progressive”. Willetts beat a retreat from the debate, at which point students took to shouting chants about ConDem policy and chased his car until it was out of view.
Students had hoped to gain entrance to the conference, but a £95 per ticket charge meant that it was inaccessible to most. Had they been able to afford entry, they would have been treated to a substantial buffet, as well as speeches from representatives of companies such as BP and Vice-Chancellors from the most privileged universities around the world. While we were unable to attend, it is clear from the list of speakers that few, if any, serious alternatives to the privatization of higher education were on offer from the speakers.
Amongst the requests made by students were calls for free education funded by the wealthiest 10%, the restoration of funding to the Humanities, and an end to corporatization of campuses.
We are not prepared to sit around and wait while expensive knife-sharpening conferences happen at our expense. We will not negotiate the terms on which we are pushed into an abyss of debt. The time for asking ministers nicely to not cut our futures is over. The time has come to create an opening for a truly progressive and democratic alternative.