Former LUSU Presidents Michael Payne and Tim Roca seconded a controversial motion proposed by Alan Whitaker, who was previously a Pro Vice Chancellor and president of Lancaster University’s University and Colleges Union (UCU).
This motion sought to create a working group of University Court that would “examine the impact for Lancaster of the new fees level and funding model for Higher Education” and “assess the changing expectations of students as a result of a substantial increase in tuition fees”. It would be made up of only nine people – one current student, one LUSU officer, one future student from a sixth form college, one member of academic staff, and five members of Court.
The group would focus on three main areas: services, finance and governance.
Whitaker spoke in favour of the motion in the Court meeting, and explained his reasons for proposing it to SCAN beforehand.
“My motivation was to make use of the wide ranging experience and expertise which is to be found in the Court membership as we enter very uncertain times. I’ve long felt that the University doesn’t do this as often as it might”, he said.
Speaking on why he felt the suggested focus areas of the group were important, he said: “I think they are significant in themselves and likely to become even more so as we enter a much more difficult funding regime. I would also add a fourth for consideration and that is widening participation and fair access. If the University is to remain successful, I believe that continued open engagement with students and staff is vital, as are the principles of transparency and accountability in the decisions which will need to be taken.”
Roca also explained his reasoning for supporting the motion: “This year has probably been the most momentous year for Higher Education since the 1950s, in terms of funding and the issues that have been raised. The Court is an opportunity for people who have got an interest in the University, and have been involved in it, and care about it, to convey their opinion”.
Despite the controversy of the past week, and the well-known nature of it, the motion did not pass at a vote in Court, with the majority being an estimated 60-40 against.
Speaking after Court, Payne said: “A vote in Court is a vote in Court. Everybody has a right to their opinion, and that’s certainly what happened, and that’s what proposers and seconders want to see. Some very interesting points were raised – I think there is a worrying consensus around accepting the market in Higher Education, which if you stressed with students, I’m not sure they would agree”.
Roca concurred with this opinion. “There does appear to have been an orchestrated response by the University, which was quite defensive. That’s unfortunate, because the motion was never intended to attack anybody, and there was a genuine clash of ideas and I’m particularly proud that someone of the standing of Lord Judd supported the motion and that makes me feel more confident about the fact that I supported it in the first place”.
Robbie Pickles, LUSU President, had opposed the motion and spoke against it in University Court.
“This is fundamentally a victory for every single student at Lancaster University. By continuing with the current relationship we have with the University, we will be able to secure significant wins for students on space for societies and sports clubs, on funding future international partnerships with other institutions and on more money for real projects that matter for students”, he said.
He added: “The motion was fundamentally creating a different system of governance within this University which would have seen student representation plummet from the current situation. Less officers, and less ordinary students represented on committees than we would have seen in the present situation”.