More than two hundred people attended the first public meeting of the OxfordEducation Campaign to discuss the recommendations of the Browne Review.
Students, academics, graduates and sixth formers attended the meeting at Wadham’s Old Refectory on Monday to express their concerns about the review’s findings.
The meeting, chaired by Alice Heath, saw calls for mass demonstrations at the visits of Liberal Democrat ministers Vince Cable and Nick Clegg, and for an NUS-style “town takeover” of the city centre.
“We shouldn’t be afraid of unorthodox methods of action,” said one speaker to universal assent.
Another speaker added, “The world thinks all Oxford students are really good at is sending emails and writing letters. It’s time we showed them we can do immediate action as well.”
A member of the OxfordEducation Campaign presented a summary of the Browne Review and the higher education budget.
The summary said that the proposed cut from £3.5bn to £700m in spending would move the UK to the bottom of the OEDC league table for universities.
Jason Keen, former JCR President of St John’s, doubted whether the cap on tuition fees would stay at £7000 a year for long.
“Even if students do pay £7000,” he said, “it won’t be enough to make up for the shortfall in funding. What we are really talking about is fees of £12,000 or £20,000 in the near future. Universities will become palaces for the elite, closed off to those who shouldn’t have to pay.”
Heath asked the meeting to use jazz hands to applaud the statements they agreed with in silence. Hands shot up all around the room when one speaker complained about the broader program of cuts, saying, “This shouldn’t just be a student campaign – this is going to be a struggle that will last for the next two generations.”
Students were critical about the US model of education, where basic fees of up to $40,000 a year are subsidised by donations from alumni. Students also condemned the 57 Liberal Democrat MPs who failed to honour their pledge to the NUS that they would not raise tuition fees.
The emphasis placed by the government on business skills was also discussed, and speakers criticised the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills for “trivialising science and research by linking them to commercial results” and for “turning university into a factory for ultra-employable people.”
One academic, who wished to remaom anonymous, said that support for student protests is high among teaching staff, but spoke of a “culture of fear” that prevents tutors from speaking out. “If you stand up against these reforms,” he said, “you stand to lose your job.”
It would take a petition from 20 academics to force a debate in the Sheldonian Theatre, and many students said they would try to persuade their tutors to sign up.
“You have a unique opportunity,” said one of the event’s organisers, “to spend an hour a week in a room with one of the finest minds in Britain. Use it.”
Other courses of action that were suggested included confronting local Conservative MP Nicola Blackwood in parliament and coordinating protests with other universities across Britain and Europe.
“I’m hugely, hugely angry,” said Elena Lynch, who is in her fourth year reading French and German at Wadham. “This is just going to devastate social mobility.”