The Independent, London, 7 June 2011
Academics at Oxford University today passed a vote of no confidence in Universities Minister David Willetts.
Almost 300 dons backed the motion following a debate in which the Coalition Government’s reforms were derided as “reckless, incoherent and incompetent”.
There were cheers inside the University’s Sheldonian Theatre as the results were announced, with 283 in favour and five against.
The motion calls on Oxford’s council to “communicate to government that Oxford University has no confidence in the policies of the minister for higher education.”
It is the first time a vote of no confidence in a minister has been passed by an English university, and follows a no-confidence vote taken recently by the Royal College of Nursing in Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s management of NHS reforms.
Proposing today’s motion, Professor Robert Gildea said: “We are under attack from government policies that are reckless, incoherent and incompetent.”
He warned that moves to introduce “off quota” places, outside the current cap, and announcements like that by a group of academics led by A C Grayling to set up a new private humanities university, risk introducing a “two track” admissions system.
“It’s red carpet entry for the rich and even more competition for everyone else.”
He told Congregation that some academics may have concerns about Mr Willetts being named in the resolution.
But he added: “This minister has been central to promoting these policies, outspoken in defending them and responsible for delivering them.
“That’s why, in this unprecedented way, we are calling him to account.”
Professor Margaret MacMillan, warden of St Antony’s College accused the Government of “making policies on the fly, trying something and when that doesn’t work, trying something else.”
And she raised concerns that the university will be forced to bring in more higher-paying foreign students, saying she doesn’t want Oxford to “end up as a finishing school for rich students from around the world.”
“We want the best students, not just the most affluent,” she added.
David Barclay, president of Oxford University’s Student Union (OUSU) told dons: “I speak for a generation of humanities students who may never get to use the new facilities they desperately need because the capital fund has dried up, all the public funding for building has been slashed and our fundraising is focused on bursaries and fee waivers.
“I speak for a generation of brilliant minds who may never become graduate students or academics because the mountain of debt required to get through undergraduate life creates an impossible pressure to start paying it off.
“I speak for a generation of disadvantaged students who may never even come to Oxford, deterred by the extraordinary leap in fee level and by the parents for whom £27,000 is more than they earn in a year.
“I speak for all these people and today I need you to speak for them too.
“Because today you have a platform to pass judgment publicly on the damage that is being done to higher education across the country.”