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By Alice Lighton
The Browne Review has sparked a flurry of reaction across Oxford University, uniting some colleges and dividing others.
As students around the country prepare for the national demonstration planned in London for November 10, Oxford students have been discussing how – or whether – to support protests against Browne’s recommendations for higher education funding.
Lord Browne’s review of higher education funding, published last Tuesday, recommended the lifting of the cap on university fees, meaning students could be paying tens of thousands of pounds a year for their education.
In addition, the report calls for severe cuts in state funding for teaching, so that fees will have to be a minimum of £7,000 to compensate.
Student activists plan protests
The anonymous Oxford Education Campaign hosted a meeting at Wadham College on Monday evening, for anyone concerned by the report’s recommendations to discuss what action can be taken.
Around 200 people packed themselves into a 60-capacity room at Wadham on Monday for a meeting hosted by the campaign, with representatives from various university societies attending as well as two people who identified themselves as academics.
The enthusiastic attendees suggested marches and protests in the city centre, as well as walking out of lectures 20% of the way through since Browne proposed universities receiving a mere 20% of their current teaching funding.
Excitement and enthusiasm appeared to be the main feelings of people interviewed after the meeting, which lasted an hour and a half.
“I’ve never seen a meeting at Oxford so well run,” said OUSU Academic Affairs Officer Hannah Cusworth. “There’s so much energy and momentum to get something done.”
Nick Evans, of the Socialist Workers’ Student Society said: “It was exciting to see a full meeting of people not only opposed to marketisation but also coming up with practical ways of reacting.”
A second meeting at Wadham will be held this Monday.
JCRs debate their responses
Some JCRs are following suit. Following a debate in their first JCR meeting this term St. John’s created a taskforce of fifteen students to get turnout for the national demonstration in London.
John’s JCR President Martha Mackenzie said the college opposes higher tuition fees since “St John’s is a very progressive college with a high state school intake”. A lot of their students say they would not have applied to Oxford under the conditions which Lord Browne proposes, Mackenzie said.
St Catherine’s JCR passed a unanimous motion this week to support OUSU’s position on the Browne Review and to send a group to the November 10 London demonstration. Hertford and St Peter’s (as well as OUSU and the National Union of Students) have contributed money towards coaches for Oxford students going to the demonstration.
Other colleges have decided not to act.
Exeter JCR President Katy Moe said: “Exeter JCR does not make political statements on behalf of its members, in order to respect the diversity of views within the JCR. We will therefore not be taking any action in response to the Browne Review. It is up to individual JCR members to form their own views and take action if appropriate.”
The Browne Review debate has Corpus JCR – once led by current Labour leader Ed Miliband – divided. A motion supporting OUSU’s Higher Education funding campaigns in Corpus Christi’s JCR meeting on Sunday ignited a heated exchange on Facebook between students afterwards.
Jim Everett, Vice-President of Corpus’ JCR committee, said that whenever he tried to suggest that the JCR make itself aware of what they were implicitly supporting by backing OUSU he was cut off by the JCR President.
Everett said: “The JCR has become a vehicle for those with OUSU aspirations to force their ideas upon the JCR… the political bias of certain members and the prejudice faced against those who hold different beliefs is a sickening problem.”
Corpus will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the Browne Review in full. Oriel JCR will also debate this weekend whether to support the Browne Review.
Other colleges such as Mansfield and Keble are watching OUSU closely before they take any college-specific action.
OUSU President David Barclay met Oxford West MP Nicola Blackwood in Parliament on Tuesday. Barclay said he believes Blackwood has “concerns” about the Browne Review: “She working genuinely quite hard [on the issue] and wants to hear more from students in her constituency.”
After the demonstration on November 10, for which OUSU is contributing £1,000 towards coaches to transport Oxford students, they intend to write letters to MPs and press forward with a media campaign.