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The Oxford Debate on Higher Education

The complete Oxford Debate on Higher Education, all six articles as featured on openDemocracy.net OurKingdom.
Stuart White
16 February 2011

The Oxford University 'Congregation', the University's sovereign body which includes all permanent academic faculty, met in the Sheldonian theatre on 8 February to debate whether it should raise student fees in the context of a fierce wider debates. Some students were allowed to take part while others demonstrated outside. This is a collection of all six articles that were featured on OurKingdom. The original articles (and comments on them) can be found here: Stuart White, Kate Tunstall, John Parrington, David Barclay, Bernard Sufrin, and Rowan Tomlinson & Rebecca Sparrow.

Stuart White: "Cuts, Fees and equality of opportunity in Higher Education"

I want to start by addressing those who say that we should consider the issue of cuts and fees in higher education as settled. These colleagues are, to coin a phrase, confusing the end with what is only the end of the beginning.

In a democracy, no policy is ever set in stone. Change is always possible and, if we think change is right, we should say this and campaign for it.

Let’s recall that the government has no electoral mandate for its hiking of tuition fees. (Indeed, one of the two Coalition parties won seats on the basis of a pledge to do the very opposite.) The government won a uniquely anguished vote in the House of Commons, but was genuinely worried that it would lose the vote in the Lords.

And look at what is happening in other areas. Look at the protests over the privatisation of forests. Look at the wonderful read-ins across the country this past weekend to protest closures of public libraries. Look at the opposition gathering to the government’s proposed NHS reforms or at the revolt brewing in the charitable sector over local government spending cuts. Look at the government’s falling approval ratings.

What we are seeing in this country is the emergence of a broad, popular movement against cuts and the marketisation of our public realm; a movement that stands for values of humanity and decency against what Philip Pullman calls the "greedy ghost of market fundamentalism".

In this situation, where the public is increasingly sceptical of the free-market ideological thrust of government policy, it would be odd indeed for Oxford University to meekly acquiesce to this ideology in higher education.

Oxford University should have the courage of the forest protestors, the library protestors, and others protesting free-market extremism (such as those outside this building). Oxford University should say, clearly and loudly, that it does not accept the new fees regime as an acceptable settlement for higher education.

But if we really believe in equality of opportunity and equality of access to higher education, we must say more than this.

For equality of opportunity is threatened – perhaps more threatened - by a whole range of other government policies.

It is threatened by the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, a policy with a proven track record of assisting children from poorer backgrounds to stay on in school after 16.

It is threatened by the closure of public libraries. As the first person in my family ever to enter higher education, I know how important ready access to a public library was to me as a child in raising my intellectual horizons and setting me on the path to university.

And how will equality of opportunity be affected by the abolition of the Independent Living Fund which currently assists young disabled people to put together care packages to support their life at university?

And what will be the effect of abolishing the Child Trust Fund, a policy which would have helped to ensure that all citizens reach adulthood with the financial liquidity that middle-class parents and their children take for granted?

And equality of opportunity is threatened by the cuts to Sure Start programs which provide essential help in early years development.

It all adds up.

In short, if we really believe in equality of opportunity, then as a University we must be clear and loud in saying that we oppose the new fees regime in higher education- and the wider cuts agenda of the Coalition government.

This – and this alone - is the starting-point for a meaningful discussion of equality of opportunity.

Stuart White, Department of Politics and International Relations.

Kate Tunstall: "A serious educational disaster is looming"

I’d like to begin by saying that I hope that, in future, any student wishing to speak will be allowed to do so, as is the case in Cambridge.

The topic set by Council for discussion today is “undergraduate funding and support (including the level of the undergraduate fee)”. This is embarrassingly narrow.

Were we to say nothing about the grotesque and poisonous vision of education as a means to maximize earnings that is contained in the Browne Report? A report, written, it cannot be said too often, by a former CEO of an oil company that preferred to cut safety measures on oil-rigs rather than reduce company profit and is thereby responsible for the world’s most serious ecological disaster? A serious educational disaster is looming out there, and Council suggests we debate how best to facilitate it?

No way.

The University of Oxford – we, all students included – should be using our considerable intellectual resources and energies, along with the media attention we invariably attract, to formulate and publicize a robust and compelling case for the continued public funding of universities.

It is not unaffordable; this country is richer than it has ever been, and that’s true even in the recession.  We must not allow ourselves to lose sight of the real possibility of free higher education for all; after all, it is available not so very far from here: in Scotland, in France.

And it is only by continuing to fund the universities publicly that they can continue to rival their counterparts in the US, not by subjecting them to market forces, nor by turning students into customers, teachers into service providers, and researchers into product developers. The Universities are already no longer in the Department for Education but for Business, Innovation and Skills; would we accept it if the NHS was transferred to the Department for Fitness, Reproduction and Pills?

Moreover, this government wants to make Oxford revisit Brideshead Revisited.

We have come a long way since then: there are women.

But there are still not very many students (indeed I have few colleagues) who were, like me, comprehensively educated; there are few non-whites, few who were in receipt of free school meals or of the much regretted but not forgotten EMA.

It is because of this that Oxford is always compromised in its ability to adopt a robust and non-defensive position in national debates about education – the most recent issue of the Oxford Magazine referred to “the often embarrassing theme of elitism”.

And it is embarrassing, not because we are unable to defend academic elitism, but because the elitism we too, too often represent is not academic but socio-economic. If we’re going to become a university that can honestly say it selects on academic merit alone, we cannot remain silent about socio-economic inequalities.

The Oxford Magazine also said: “given the educational system in the UK, it is […] a fact of life that Oxford will end up admitting a disproportionately high intake from independent schools”. Such resignation – ‘given’, ‘fact of life’, ‘end up admitting’ – is simply no good.

We must also propose a different educational system. The current one, with its private education for less than 10% who, on so-called ‘academic’ merit, occupy up to 50% of university places, is only a “given” or a “fact of life” in the way apartheid was.

And Simon Hughes’s supposedly radical idea of quotas will not do; it dresses the window while leaving the background discriminatory structures in place.

Oxford must formulate a response to the cuts in public funding that is unembarrassed and un-embarrassing. Our ability to command respect as an institution with intellectual and moral integrity will depend far less on our student funding packages and access schemes than on a stubborn refusal to be silent about and thus complicit with the gross inequalities this institution still reflects in spite of those schemes. Indeed we should allow ourselves to wonder about the extent to which access schemes and the annual heart-warming success story they provide do not also function to divert attention away from the causes of those inequalities, which ought also to be our target.

I am loath to use the word, but they said they wanted ‘impact’; let’s really give it to them.

Kate Tunstall is a University Lecturer in French, Fellow of Worcester, and part of the Oxford Education Campaign and Oxford's Free University.

John Parrington: "The price of everything but the value of nothing"

Oxford graduate Oscar Wilde once talked of people who ‘know the price of everything but the value of nothing’. I believe this is an accurate description of those in power at the moment in Britain and no doubt could be applied to many in the previous government. The reason I believe we should be opposed to an increase in student fees, and the proposed cuts to higher education, the two being in my mind intimately connected, is that those trying to impose this change know nothing of the value of what we are engaged upon here in Oxford, and because we in contrast do know the value of our teaching and research, we have a duty both to our students and to our research to oppose these measures with all the means at our disposal.

I’ll start with the proposed increase in fees, which we’ve heard over the last few days are almost certain to mean £9,000 per annum for the top universities and who some like the Vice-Chancellor of Leeds want to be unlimited. I’m sure we all agree that Oxford should be attracting the students with the most talent. However given that only six percent of children in this country attend private schools yet around fifty percent get into Oxford, it also seems clear that we must be failing to select a huge amount of gifted students. I was shocked to read in The Guardian recently that last year Oxford and Cambridge accepted more students from one private school – Westminster – than from the entire population of children eligible for free school meals. Can anyone here in Oxford really justify such a state of affairs? 

Actually I believe we do try hard at Oxford to reach out to students from less privileged backgrounds. I’ve been involved with various access programmes here, and I voted for the change in the selection for interview procedure in Medicine, which now means we take into account an applicant’s performance at GCSE A* compared to their school average, which positively favours academically gifted students in low achieving schools.

But I fear that all this will mean nothing compared to the negative impact that huge fees will have in deterring less privileged students from applying here. I think I can speak with some authority here having got into Cambridge from a Bradford comprehensive school that never sent students to Oxbridge and not only did not help me but actively tried to sabotage my application. I realised my dream through bloody-minded determination and a sympathetic admissions tutor. Yet if I’d been faced with the proposed fees I’m sure this would have been one obstacle too many to contemplate. And by the way, I’ve heard the arguments about student bursaries. The problem is that those underprivileged school students that need such bursaries most are the ones who are least likely to be informed about such measures; instead they will see what looks like universities run for the rich, and be put off from applying to such places.

Of course supporters of fees say that these are needed because of the massive cuts in funding that we face which are justified by the government by the argument that the universities needs to start paying their way. I find this argument fallacious since it only looks at the costs of educating students and carrying out research, and not what we provides in terms of wealth to the economy.

An Imperial College report published this January calculated that universities generate anything from £0 to £60 billion a year, or two to four percent of UK GDP. I was going to attempt a direct comparison with the wealth generated by finance, but then I thought how do you assess the true value of that industry, now we know how illusory a lot of it is, with its sub-prime subterfuges and the like. And yet it’s the universities that face huge cuts while the banks get billion pound bailouts, and bankers continue to rake in their obscene bonuses, despite having almost brought the world economy to a state of total meltdown. In summary, given what we contribute to the wealth of the country, we should be demanding a higher tax on businesses to pay for both our students’ fees, and our valuable research.

I make these points to show how nonsensical is the idea that the universities are in any sense a drain on the economy. But of course to measure our value only in these terms is to fall into the trap I warned against previously, of believing that something is valuable only in so far as one can put a price on it. Actually I believe that our most lasting contributions to society are those that are most difficult to quantify in purely monetary terms.

Thus, while my work is leading to new diagnoses and treatments for infertility and other medical disorders, far more important to me are the fundamental insights it reveals about the workings of the human body. Actually, it is such fundamental studies that often lead to medical and technological advances in the most unexpected ways. But anyway, why judge the value of academic work only by its potential practical application? How can monetary values be used to assess the importance of a valuable new insight into what was going on in Shakespeare’s head as he wrote one of his plays, or the social changes that led to the first flowerings of democracy in Ancient Greek times? Surely only a philistine would try. Yet it is areas like these that are being cut.

Because I feel so passionately about my research and my teaching I have been concerned by what I see as the passivity of the response of the heads of our universities and research councils to the huge cuts that the government wants to foist upon us. For instance why did Sir John Savill, chief executive of the Medical Research Council greet the announcement that funding into medical research was to be cut by ten percent in real terms as ‘better than expected’, at a time when countries like China are pouring billions into their science budgets? If I worked in the arts and humanities, where even more severe cuts are planned, I’d be even more angry about the failure of our representatives to mount any effective resistance. And why do the university heads seem to be responding to the cuts in such a passive, impotent fashion?

But you know, if there’s one thing my struggle to get from a Bradford sink school to one of the greatest universities in the world taught me, it was that if you’re not happy with a situation you try and change it. That’s why I attended the demonstration in London in November where fifty thousand lecturers and university and school students marched together against the proposed fee increases and cuts in education.

What struck me most about the demonstration was the vibrancy and creativity of the young people, but also the points they were making in their chants and placards, about the billions pouring into the war in Afghanistan, or into Trident missiles, or being spent on bigger bonuses for the bankers, or withheld from the economy in tax dodges by companies like TopShop or Vodaphone, all of which could fund the universities many times over.

In the 1960s, another period when young people were marching in the streets, Bob Dylan famously sang ‘Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command. Your old road is rapidly aging. Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand.’ What I’d suggest today is that at the very least we shouldn’t stand in the way of those young people protesting against the cuts, and that means doing our best not to block or sabotage their actions. But do we really want to be remembered as the generation that stood aside and let our children fight our battles for us?

At Worcester College we have set up a group for both staff and students who want to fight the cuts. I’d encourage those at other Colleges to consider doing the same. An important goal over the next few months will be building for the demonstration called by the TUC on the 26th March, since after all these cuts go far wider than just the universities.

Of course there will be people who’ll say the cuts are inevitable and we can’t do anything to stop them. But then I imagine there were many people in Egypt a month ago who would have said it was impossible to ever get rid of Mubarak and his corrupt government. Instead we’ve seen what ordinary people can do when they decide enough is enough. Well I say enough is enough when it comes to these attacks on our centres of teaching and learning. If you agree with me, I hope you’ll join with people like me who want to try to do something about it.

Dr John Parrington is a University Lecturer in Molecular Pharmacology and Senior Tutor in Medicine and Physiological Sciences at Worcester College, Oxford.

David Barclay: "We should be a community of intellectuals"

It is an honour to be able to address you as the representative of Oxford students. My intention today is nothing less than the total recasting of the debate around undergraduate funding and support through a new understanding of the crisis which we confront together today.

 The tone I’ve heard in committees so far has cast the crisis as one of regulation and finances. Just think of the numbers and acronyms we’ve heard today - £16,000, 70%, OFFA, BIS and TRAC. It is true as we all know that this University is not rolling in cash, but the bottom line is this - the idea that by playing the new system right and gathering all the available resources we can bring back the economic good times is a total chimera. Our margin for new action may not be huge, but it is real, and to restrict ourselves to just jumping through the HEFCE hoops is to give in to the comforting myth that the only crisis we face is of securing ourselves against tighter budgets and stricter rules. 

The real crisis which Oxford faces is one of community, and by that I mean two things; firstly how our community is perceived and accessed by those outside it, and secondly how the key relationship within it - that between students and tutors - is being undermined. Let there be no mistake about the first issue of how young adults in this country see us - the status quo was nowhere near good enough and the status quo has gone forever. We all know that the new system, through poor design and shocking PR, will put those from the poorest backgrounds off applying to University. The argument I keep hearing is that those students who would no longer come to University are never going to be Oxford’s problem because they’re never going to have the brains to get here anyway. That argument sickens me to the core. The day we give up on students who had never before thought about University coming to Oxford is the day we give up any pretence of seeking the best talent wherever it may be found. Can’t every single person in this room think of someone who has studied here as the first member of their family to enter higher education?

This is a time in which image really matters. Oxford needs to honour its promise to phase-in fee changes to show the world that we’re serious about shielding students from the full force of this unprecedented rise. We need to put in place an extraordinary fee waiver scheme that allows us to say to the poorest students that we value their academic talent so much we’ll make it free for them to study here. And we need to increase spending on bursaries and peg it to the most expensive College in order to be able to assure every student in the Collegiate University that they will be able to live comfortably in Oxford without having to work during term-time. This is the bare minimum that the University needs to do to ensure the continuation of our ideal of attracting talent from every background in Britain. But it is not the only story.

I’m sure many of you will have seen the news recently of a student suing Oxford over its teaching. This a clear sign of the threat the new funding system poses in turning this University into a place of producers and consumers of knowledge. I believe that we are not consumers and producers but a community of intellectuals engaged in the common task of investigating the world around us and understanding the human condition. That is the very heart of what Oxford is about, what makes us and our University special, and it is under the most terrifying threat. The only answer in avoiding a transactional and confrontational approach between students and tutors is to commit wholeheartedly to a co-operative and co-equal one. Once again we have to avoid the complacent idea that status quo is good enough. Not when Colleges try to sneak student charges in the back door to balance the books, not when senior University appointments exclude any student representation, and not when there is virtually no mechanism by which students can have a real say in how their increased tuition fees are going to be spent. OUSU and Common rooms across Oxford are ready to take our seat at the table and tackle the big issues which we all face, but unless Colleges and University are ready to listen to our voice and sacrifice to help turn it into action, the seats of the negotiating table will become the pews of the courts, to the detriment of us all. 

So Congregation, please don’t give in to the bureaucratic viewpoint which would have us charge what we can and spend only what we have to. The real crisis upon us now has got nothing to do with the University’s wallet and everything to do with how our community can draw students in from every background and give them real power over their experience here. The students of Oxford have sent me today to ask some of the greatest minds in the world to set themselves to the task of solving that challenge, ‘what will Oxford do now?’

David Barclay is President of the Oxford University Student Union.

Bernard Sufrin: "Please don't put marmalade on a turd"

The Congregation that is meeting inside this building is the Sovereign Body of the University, and we are here to discuss how the University should respond to the draconian cuts in the higher education budget that will be implemented over the next four years.

On the face of it this requires us to do no more than consider the nuts and bolts of the response – such as what level of fee to set, what the fee-waiver tariffs will be, what scholarships might be funded, what steps to take to satisfy access requirements, and so on.

But there is another congregation, meeting outside this building. They believe that the University is in a position to make significant choices about the nuts and bolts questions. They want the University to make a stand against higher fees. And I think they need the University to speak truth to power.

And I think we need that too. We have been publicly timid on today’s
questions for a bit too long.

At each stage in the deterioration of the financial climate for Universities or for students we seem to have accepted the assumptions made in Whitehall without public demur, prayed that the consequences of the decisions wouldn’t be too dire for Oxbridge, and then gotten on with business as usual.

Perhaps it has been with the goal of maintaining good working relationships with our Whitehall masters, but if our officials have argued with them, it has been in private; or from behind the smokescreen of the Russell group; or from within the Sheepfold of Universities UK.
We have missed some important opportunities to provide moral and intellectual clarity.

One exception was Congregation’s revolt in 1985 against Council’s proposal of an honorary doctorate for Mrs. Thatcher. I still meet colleagues who think that this was a political mistake; but I agree with Denis Noble that the “... mammoth majority against the degree demonstrates the seriousness of Oxford’s purpose in protesting against the damage inflicted by government policy on science, education and health.”

What we should should challenge now, is the idea that higher education is no more than a private benefit, and that the only beneficiaries of a university education are the higher-earning graduates.

We should be articulating a different vision – based on the principle that higher education contributes to the greater well-being of society at large, independently of the increased earning power of its graduates or the short-term impact of its research.

We should take seriously the call by Professor Sretzer of Cambridge for free post-secondary education and training for all. Higher education should no longer be the exclusive preserve of the children of the upper and middle classes and the very few underprivileged who can win scholarships or bursaries that take them into private education. And we should challenge the false nostrum of ”access”; the myth that the Universities can make up for the malign effects of the UK’s caste systems of primary and secondary education by admitting a proportion of state-educated students that some secretary of state or access-Czar mandates from time to time. This has been as effective as putting elastoplast on a gangrene (or marmalade on a turd). Something more radical is needed.

I shall close with an uncomfortable truth about the proposed new system of loans. Susan Cooper did her usual meticulous job in the last Oxford Magazine1 explaining it. I wish more people did their homework as effectively as she does ours for us.

On the face of it the system will provide more money for the Universities while at the same time costing some lower-paid graduates less than the current system. But these days we need to look behind the face. And two of the system’s aspects pose big risks for graduates, and for the taxpayers 30 years out.

First: the legislation calls for a real rate of interest of at least 3% to be charged to the better-off graduates. But there is also a clause that permits this 3% to be increased, and there is no upper bound in the legislation.

Second: Cooper has shown that even at 3% real interest it is inevitable that a large proportion of graduates will not have paid off the full amount of their loan at the 30-year write-off point. Thus, as she says, “The old system of the government paying up-front and able to see its costs as they are incurred is replaced by unknown losses that will appear 30 years later.”

I don’t think it takes too much imagination to see the dangers of cash-strapped and ideologically-driven governments playing fast and loose with the real interest rate on loans; or simply privatising the loan books, and giving the plutocrats a further cohort of hostages. We need look no further than the U.S. to see what the consequences of that step would be. Just Google “SallyMae, Citicorp and student loan default”.
If the UK is destined for plutocratic governance for a while then there’s certainly something for an aspiring student to be anxious about here; for the idea that we are all in this together has already been tested to destruction.

Bernard Sufrin is Emeritus Fellow and Tutor in Computation at Worcester College and is with [email protected] -- the Free University at Oxford.

Rowan Tomlinson: "What's happening is not inevitable"

My focus today is a key term of the Browne review. Not the horribly redefined ‘value’, robbed of all its value by absorption into a rhetoric of the market, but the apparently more innocent, positive term ‘access’. In the section entitled, ‘How would it benefit me?’, the Review reassures prospective students that its proposals will mean ‘no barriers to access’. It takes some gall to declare this in a document that justifies a tripling in fees as a solution to its decimation of HE funding.

The government claims to cherish social mobility. But few of us could doubt that raising fees so much will do anything but damage social mobility. Those from lower socio-economic groups are traditionally, logically, debt-averse, and the deferred gratification of a degree is something that one needs to be confident – socially, financially, in terms of life prospects – in order to contemplate, let alone take on. Moreover, it’s a fact that social mobility that’s meaningful and widespread can’t be achieved through the provision of a limited number of bursaries. The government’s enthusiastic promotion of apprenticeships reads, meanwhile, as a tacit admission that university is for certain types of people, from certain social backgrounds. Cameron and Clegg are not, I’d bet, envisaging that their own children will be donning overalls. It’s ok, it seems, for a working-class kid to be a plumber or an electrician but don’t dream of being a scientist, philosopher, artist, engineer, or writer.

I don’t – as I’ve been encouraged to do so by the narrow framing of the discussion – wish to consider how to implement tokenistic mechanisms to ease the new regime (and the political connotations there are intended). I want to remind us of what our guilt-tinged obsession with access actually says about equality in higher education and by so doing urge us to think bigger and act more boldly. After all, amidst all this talk of access, the ever-present yet ever-neglected fact is that the very term is predicated on a gross inequality: namely, that there’s still a barrier between top universities and students who attend standard, non-selective state schools, be these FE colleges, or the much-maligned comprehensive, whose model of socially and academically inclusive education – as a former comp student myself – I strongly defend. We’ve all absorbed this term ‘access’ and use it transparently. But isn’t there something wrong when a word that suggests a barrier to be crossed is used to talk about the school origin of over 90 per cent of the population? What is more, the state-school percentage of which some of us seem (bafflingly) proud is deceptive. We need to stop hoodwinking ourselves and others and admit publicly that many of those who make up the intake from state schools are from selective schools, which operate not through some kind of pure academic meritocracy but through social and cultural exclusion and elitism. Or, if they are from non-selective schools, they tend to be from a particular, happy few, those fed by atypical constituencies, or which have longstanding relationships with Oxford. Or else, they’re students who attend comps but who do so armed with the cultural capital – and subsequent confidence and sense of entitlement – that one gets from being the child of a university-educated professional.

But we’re already doing a lot for access, I hear you say, 1.8 million-pounds-worth. Look at the many schemes, look at Uniq, look at the Young Ambassadors. Heavily involved in these activities myself, I’ve witnessed first-hand the passion of those working for access, though I’ve also heard talk recently of concerns about the ‘conversion rate’, an anticipation of the kinds of quantitative assessment the government wants to impose. This is both undesirable and unworkable. Since how can we measure inspiration, boosting motivation, changing horizons? This simply isn’t quantitative, just as the value of a degree – which Browne wants to compute – resists measurement.

A second response, defence, easy way out, is to say that we come too late, can do too little, that the roots of out-performance by those from selective schools lie far back in inequalities of early childhood, that it’s a regrettable fact of life, but a fact nonetheless, that in wanting to recruit the brightest students, we end up admitting more from fee-paying and selective schools.

I reject this counsel of despair and contend that, as gateholders for the precious Oxford education, we can and must do something to dismantle divisions entrenched by earlier inequalities, divisions which selective schools – fee paying or maintained – endorse and solidify. If we’re to salvage anything from this attack on education, then let’s make access meaningful by being honest about inequalities in education and reflecting this in our policies: let’s stop judging with blunt instruments of grading, when we all know that an A* can be bought, let’s have differential offers, explicit use of contextual data so that exam attainment is judged against school background, supported entry routes, intensive pre-sessional courses, foundation years. Our access work to date has been laudable. And we must certainly fight the temptation to jump through OFFA’s hoops and, bowing to targets, bus kids in to mass open days, or else to concentrate our efforts on 17 year olds when access work has more – though less immediate – value the earlier we start. But I urge you too to consider that the time is right to move away from tokenism and to take much more radical steps. By so doing, I believe we can use our privileged position as a top university to attenuate the devastating impact of what clearly amount to ideological attacks by the current government on the public sector.

Dr Rowan Tomlinson is a Fellow and Tutor in French, New College, Oxford.

Rebecca Sparrow: "What's happening is not inevitable"

I have a simple point to make. We can't talk about all this as if it's inevitable, and it's actually been a really wonderful surprise coming here and realising how many people haven't been doing that. Discussing fees and access is like saying we accept that the cuts, which affect both your research and our tuition fees, are going to happen.

Simply not true.

All over the country people are finding ways to stand up to these cuts. Oxford has a responsibility not to be pressured by impending deadlines into promising to make a virtually irreversible change, long before anything is actually put in place, and before it's attempted to stop it happening, as if the battle has already been lost. We've heard enough warnings today about what will happen within universities, and society, if we do.

People and universities all over the country look to Oxford and its members as acting as part of a leading academic institution. These members' reaction to what the government is trying to impose is more likely than most to have an impact on policy. Oxford's involvement in the national campaign will immeasurably add to the power of everyone standing up against the cuts.

But importantly, this university is also special because academics here have a sovereign right over the administration, in the power to call a vote in Congregation. Like other workers, you also have the right, and the power, to strike. And students will support you in that. We, as members of this university, students and staff together, have a responsibility to education in this country to object, from the root, to what is threatening it. And we have the power to do so. Let's, before it's too late.

Rebecca Sparrow is an Oxford Education Campaign member and undergraduate at Wadham College.

Trade deals, Brexit and disaster capitalism

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