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The university’s Tuition Fees Working Party was re-activated in Week Three at University Court.
The Working Party, whose membership will be augmented equally with internal University officers (including academics), external Court members and Students’ Union nominees, will work as a means of giving Lancaster University students a voice that will be heard at government level.
It was requested by the Court that discussions by the Working Party should incorporate evidence from and consideration of all student categories, therefore hearing the voices of those most affected by the proposed cuts and possibility of increased fees. After such evidence is collected, the Working Party must then consult the University Senate and report to University Council before its report may be submitted as evidence to the Government to use in the Browne Review.
The government is set to cut nearly £533m in Higher Education Funding in the coming financial year (2010-2011) and further long-term cuts have been set out in the Chancellor’s Pre-Budget Report 2009. The results of such cuts are likely to have a devastating effect on all concerned with higher education.
It is expected that more than 200 jobs will be lost at King’s College, London, around 150 at the University of Westminster and, unions claim, as many as 700 at Leeds, 340 at Sheffield Hallam and 300 at Hull, with entire campus closures at Cumbria and Wolverhampton Universities being necessary to cope with the loss of funds.
Such changes come as a government-commissioned independent review, chaired by Lord Browne, considers whether to raise tuition fees from £3,225 per year to up to £7,000. It has been suggested that over three years total cuts will amount to at least £950m.
University Court was told, in a motion made by LUSU – proposed by Union President Michael Payne, and seconded by VP Academic Affairs, Danny Ovens – that the expected cuts were “disproportionate” especially in comparison with other government departments, and are “utterly unacceptable and should be denounced by universities, students’ unions and trade unions collectively”.
Court was also told: “in a period of economic and political uncertainty, institutional clarity on such fundamental issues as university fees and funding are of paramount importance and that any view on fees should not be reached without full consultation and input from the students via their Students’ Union and from members of University staff”.
To give effect to such a view the Court requested the University Council to re-activate the Working Party on Tuition Fees. Although this move seems to be popular with students, its effectiveness remains to be seen.
After the meeting of Court, a paper was tabled at University Council, the University’s senior most governing body, proposing the re-activation of the Working Group with immediate effect. The Pro-Chancellor and Chair of Council, Bryan Gray proposed that Rick Turner, former Chair of the University’s Finance Committee should be the chair of the Working Group.
The interim proposal caused contention in Council, with the LUSU President expressing concerns at the process through which this had been made.
“Our concerns are not with Mr. Turner or his credibility at all, I have worked very closely with him over the past two years and have always found him to be experienced, reasonable and committed to his role in the University,” Payne commented.
He continued: “Although Bryan suggested to Council this was an interim measure until they return to approve our motion in March, I am disappointed that no discussion was had with the Students’ Union about this proposal before the meeting.”
Payne went further to express his hopes for when Council next meet in March: “I am sure University Councillors will uphold the request for an independent chair to be agreed mutually between the University and Students’ Union as expressed and unanimously supported by hundreds of members of University Court in our motion.”