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On the Friday of Week One, just a few days after the release of the Browne Review, the University of Cumbria held a panel debate to try and bring to the fore some of the key issues arising from the review and how they will effect Higher Education not only nationally but in our area. Most of the panel were very obviously and openly on the side of the students with participants such as Stuart Langhorn, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for our constituency in the General Election, and Veronica Killen, part of the University and College Union. One participant however, perhaps due to being a Conservative MP and their current party stance on Higher Education, seemed to be not only against the students’ and Universities’ fight for fairer fees and funding but to not actually care at all.
Obviously many students including myself would disagree with Eric Ollerenshaw’s views: he supports the raise in tuition fees and a cut in funding as universities become more independent from the government. Who would willingly agree to pay £7000 or more a year for an education that will be no better than the one we currently receive at a fraction of the price. But I will not take issue with this – I think we have all heard enough about this topic for this month, it is more Ollerenshaw’s reluctance to listen to those whom he is supposed to be representing that disturbed me.
Throughout the debate he tutted, rolled his eyes and interjected, even though the chairman of the debate said this would not be tolerated. In a room full of those who will be closely affected by the cuts to Higher Education, those who will be paying the price for his party’s decision, this seemed highly disrespectful.
As a former teacher I would assume that Ollerenshaw had students and the education system at the top of his priorities, but from what was said in the debate and the statement to SCAN, I can only conclude that we are far from it. He used a quotation taken from David Cameron’s Prime Ministers’ Questions on October 20 to explain his hopes what the changes in Higher Education will achieve: “[W]e want well-funded universities; we want universities that are able to exercise some independence; […] we want people from low-income backgrounds to be able to go to the best universities in the country; and we want a proper element of progressivity. That is what Lord Browne proposes, and we are going to amend that to make it even more progressive.”
Ollerenshaw seems by using this not to be representing us but just following his party without first consulting the people he is supposed to be representing, His loyalties obviously lie in Westminster, a very long way from Lancaster. Is it not the job of an MP to represent the views and opinions of those within their constituency? Yes, you might say that the majority voted for him and his views so no further consultation with the people is needed; you could say that the people have already spoken. However in such a difficult, changing and crucial time such as now it is simply wrong that he doesn’t seem to be listening to the students and academics in the two universities he is supposed to represent.
His argument is that cuts are to be made all across society and it is only fair if cuts are made to Higher Education as well as the rest of society. Obviously pensioners and parents shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of the cuts while us students are unscathed. However it seems that Higher Education is always an easier target than the rest of society, who cares about those lazy, tax-dodging students? Not Eric Ollerenshaw anyway.
Ollerenshaw would not sign the NUS pledge to vote against a raise in tuition fees, saying at both the LUSU question time last academic year and at the debate at Cumbria that he could not sign the pledge without seeing the results of the Browne review first. In this instance I respect Ollerenshaw for his honesty, he said: “Despite pressure, I did not sign up to the student fees pledge before the election, because I felt reform was needed. Many other candidates found it easier just to say what students wanted to hear”.
I respect that he did not simply sign the pledge to appease students, of which there are many in his constituency. In the light of recent events in the weeks following the Browne review which saw a large proportion of Liberal Democrat MP going back on their promise to support students, I would much rather have an MP who totally honest about not supporting us (although not ideal) than an MP who doesn’t support us anyway but makes false promises along the way perhaps to try and win the student vote in the election.