Oxford Professors have “no confidence” in university reforms
Oxford University fellows voted overwhelmingly to have “no confidence” in David Willetts, Minister for Universities, following his university reforms.
The motion, signed by 170 lecturers in May, was passed by 283 votes to five. It was the first time an English university has declared no confidence in a government minister.
Oxford professor Robert Gildea, who proposed the motion, described the government’s higher education plans as “reckless, incoherent and incompetent”. He said that the government would make university a “red carpet for the rich”.
Another professor warned that higher fees would result in rich international students filling the University’s ranks, going against the University’s belief that education should be available to the largest number of people possible. Others argued that debt would force fewer students to enter postgraduate research.
Peter Oppenheimer, Mr Willetts’s former economics professor at Oxford, described him as “no politician”, while Oxford’s Students’ Union President voiced fears that some subjects would almost disappear from the University.
Cambridge University academics are expected to pass a similar motion later this month after 150 signed a similar motion to Oxford’s. Meanwhile, 1000 Warwick students and professors signed an online “no confidence” petition and another petition was created at Goldsmiths, University of London. It is unclear whether Durham will follow in their footsteps.
Professor Gildea said he hoped Oxford’s action would have a “rousing effect” on other universities to pressurise the government into thinking again.
Durham University Vice-Chancellor Chris Higgins told Palatinate in March that “with our plans for a generous and flexible programme of financial support, we aim to ensure that affordability will not be a barrier to Durham attracting the best and brightest students”.
And an official statement reassures that Durham will continue to recruit the students with “the greatest merit and potential, regardless of background”.
But the fact that only a few hundred Durham students turned out to protest against the fee increases last Autumn suggests that a no confidence vote in Mr Willetts may be some way off. Others believe that strong reactions against higher education reforms may do more harm than good.
But the creation of the website www.noconfidence.org, which encourages Students’ Unions to pass motions of no confidence, means that such motions may become more common in the build-up to the application process for courses with higher fees from October.