We at Southampton Students for Education (the campus anti-fees group) aren’t too enamoured with Soton Vice-Chancellor Don Nutbeam. We think he’s deliberately evasive on what he actually believes about fees and education cuts, and we feel that he’s done little or nothing to stand up for students in the face of the really radical changes the Government has forced through. The University is certainly not badly run, but we think Don should represent students much more loudly and forcefully than he has thus-far.
But at the same time we sometimes worry we’re being unfair. After all, if we don’t know what Don really thinks, perhaps we’re judging him too harshly. In his defence he has a difficult job with a lot of responsibility. Maybe he really does think it’s bad that students graduate with £50,000 of debt, but he just can’t say so. Maybe he really does think higher education is an important public good, not a consumer good. And maybe he really is angry at the Government over the policy mess that led to massive fall in Southampton’s recruitment (and future budget).
But then we get this, in his own blog:
“We meet as a University group for breakfast with Minister David Willetts. There is a little gallows humour about student recruitment this year, with different experiences on offer from the universities present. As ever, David is an enthusiastic and well informed host, and suggested that we should find some time to discuss our student recruitment challenges this year (more later on this). Despite our occasional differences, I remain of the view that the sector is well served by him as Minister at a time when public spending is under such pressure.”
Now I don’t want to seem like a humourless young(ish) campaign-nerd (I am one, but I don’t want to seem like it). But this really is not ok. It’s one thing for Don and David to be chums and go jetting around the world. In fact, that’s probably a good thing for the University. But I am very, very uncomfortable with the idea that these two successful, wealthy, University educated members of the establishment think it’s ok to go around joking (and telling us!) about the fact that thousands of young people who worked their socks of in A-Levels have been unable to get into University. And joking, for that matter, about how their very own admissions policies will blow a multi-million pound hole in University budgets for current students and staff alike.
And equally bad is the ringing endorsement of Minister Willetts which follows. So the sector is well-served by him is it? Which part of the sector does Don have in mind? The students who couldn’t get into University because of the AAB debacle? Or the students who were deterred from even trying? What about the students who got in to University but will leave with debts of £50,000 for a degree which Don and Willetts got for free? Or perhaps Don means the support staff who lost their jobs to cope with the Willetts’ budget cuts to higher education?
Who knows what Don was thinking when he wrote this? All I know is that, suddenly, I don’t feel so unfair any-more.