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LUU’s admirable anti-£9k statement

April 1, 2011

Rachel Wenstone, Communications & Internal Affairs Officer for LUU, is one of the student union members of University council. She attended the Council meeting yesterday, as a protest was mounted outside by students who were aware that on the agenda was the proposal that our University charge £9,000 fees per year for an undergraduate degree.

Rachel delivered the following statement to council. It is one of the best, most articulate, most realistic considerations of the significance of the fees and the impact they will have on future generations that we have met. It merits wider dissemination, and we hope LUU won’t mind our copying it here in full. Please use the ‘share’ buttons below to disseminate this further.

“Council, we’ve never prepared notes or a statement before in relation to any paper, but today we felt it was important to present to you the context and consequence of the decision you choose to make today.

Myself, Elliot and the members of Leeds University Union – our students – remain ideologically and principally opposed to any increase in tuition fees.

This past year has seen the student movement reenergise, not because of a detriment they faced themselves, but in defence of education for their brothers, sisters and all future students. In Leeds we saw 4000 students take to the streets. In London, tens of thousands.  Nationally, hundreds of thousands. All in defence of education.

We regarded the day when the fees threshold was raised as confirmation that Universities had both failed and had been failed. They had failed to make an effective case to Government, and they had been failed by their Vice-Chancellors and their representative bodies – including UUK and the Russell Group. These bodies were unable to build a strong enough lobby to prevent cuts to funding and force us into a position where student fees are the only way to fund future development of Higher Education.

We have reached the point where Government funding policy has privatised higher education.

Universities made it too easy for this government. The sector has failed to protect something we hold so fundamental in this country – education and the creation of knowledge.

Make no mistake, any decision on fees by this University which is higher than what is currently set, will be met with anger and sadness in equal measure by the majority of our members, your student body. Consequently, this decision should be far from easy.

Council’s role is to manage and monitor risk for this institution. After listening to students, we feel the need to highlight the immediate risk that a maximum fee at Leeds presents.

This University, like many others, is in danger of building a fees strategy on the flawed assumption, that quality is linked to price. By setting a fee at £9000 you acknowledge that students expect more and enter into a commitment that they will indeed get more. But there are no guarantees that the levels of funding currently being spent on students can create this change.

Simply put, we believe that money isn’t the problem or the answer. Additional money won’t create a culture where students are seen as participants in knowledge creation; a system where staff give equal weight to teaching and research. Money itself won’t build an institution where students’ influence is felt throughout a School from the modules taught, to the number of contact hours, to the relationship they have with a personal tutor.

By opting for the maximum fee, we will create the opposite of what we should be aspiring to achieve.

We will create a demand and consumer-led culture, where students talk about value for money over the value of knowledge. Prospective students will ask “what is included in the price?” rather than “what research can I expect to contribute to?”

We wanted to be sure and so we asked students what impact £9000 fees would have on their perception of Leeds. 50% of your students told us that at £9000 they would not recommend studying at Leeds.

The arguments presented by Russell Group Universities for setting £9,000 fees revolve around reputation, around a narrow perception of what is excellent and elite. This is clearly flawed because now, just as when fees rose last time, every university has taken the opportunity to set their fee as high as possible.

The universities judged favourably will not be those with fees set to the maximum level, they will be the universities that have looked to set a fee that reflects their students’ needs.

Leeds has a reputation for being a university that accepts its undergraduates based not on the highest academic demands, but on their character and dedication as a whole. Among current students, many chose Leeds because of the incredible experience they had heard about, where academia and co-curricular activity go hand in hand.

Setting a fair fee and retaining fair access is the route to retaining that reputation, not setting a fee based on a perceived sense of excellence.

We want anyone with talent to be able to access higher education, but if the government claims that cannot be financially supported, then have no doubt that the decision you make today, collectively with other universities, will have a huge impact.

The easy approach would be to blame circumstance, and claim your hand has been forced. The decision you make today is on your conscience. This is so much more than money, so much more than a safe financial forecast for the University. This is about the UK wide consequence of a market in Higher Education. You have a choice today to step out of the norm, not to be another £9000 university. To look like a bold governing body who has really considered the consequences of such a decision on their main beneficiary – their current and future students.

Please reconsider £9000 fees.”


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