Mr Willets, who had been on Highfield Campus to give a talk on fairness between generations, was surrounded by a crowd of over 60 protesters, demanding he justify the Coalition’s plans to privatise higher education and raise tuition fees to £9000 a year.
When challenged on the unfairness of burdening young people with debt for an education he received for free he struggled to respond and was ushered away by University PR staff.
Protest organiser George Disney, a postgraduate research student at the university commented:
We’re disappointed that the Government Minister for Universities wasn’t able to address our concerns regarding his plans to fundamentally restructure University education. The Government’s university policy is every bit as radical and damaging as its NHS shakeup, and has been rushed through without proper debate. We call on Mr Willetts to shelve his proposals and University Vice-Chancellors, including Southampton’s Don Nutbeam to do more to defend higher education and create spaces on campus for legitimate debate.
Last year, Mr Willetts defended the government’s plans for higher education reform, stressing that there would be ‘pressure for quality and value for money’ on universities.
At a Higher Education conference last week, he rejected criticism of ‘so-called Mickey Mouse degrees’, saying they were ‘often valuable vocational courses’. Speaking to Times Higher Education, the minister stated:
Public money will continue to get to universities in a host of ways: the loans for fees that will, quite rightly, not all be repaid; grants for high-cost subjects; more generous maintenance support for students; and research excellence funds that will be inside the science ring-fence for the first time. All these payments reflect the public value of what universities do.
Yesterday, the Business Secretary Vince Cable announced that maximum tuition fees for students starting university in the year 2012/13 will remain at £9,000.