Wednesday, 8 December 2010

First quick response to Steve West's so-called "Open Letter" to all UWE students

Dear Steve West,

On the 7th of December 2010 at 4.35pm, less than two days before the vote on tuition fees, you emailed a letter to all UWE students. Many students and staff at UWE have already shared their disappointment and disagreements about this letter at the camp for education, in the corridors and through emails.

Many students and staff are currently extremely busy influencing MPs to abstain or vote against tripled tuition fees, preparing for and promoting a number of actions today and tomorrow.

We regret that you sent your letter two days before the vote, that you distracted us from crucial last minutes efforts before the vote. Moreover, it seems to us that there is little point in having a ‘big debate’ on the 14th of December, after the vote on tuition fees!

Once the vote is over, the camp for education will facilitate a process for students and staff to answer your letter point by point.

For the time being, we only have time to make the following three points.

1. At no point in your communication, you have questioned the democratic legitimacy of the government's proposal to increase tuition fees. Indeed, LibDems were elected on the basis of a pledge not to increase tuition fees. Moreover, your position portrays cuts to Higher Education as necessary without giving consideration to alternatives.Government found £850bn to bail out banks from the financial crisis1. Government now claim that they can’t find £4bn2 for Universities. Trident renewal costs £34bn alone. Other Europe countries with greater debt to GDP ratio continue to provide free Higher Education.

2. You say: “I am disappointed and saddened that, despite significant negotiations and lobbying over many months, it has not been possible to convince the government to continue to support higher education in the same way.” Yet you provide no evidence to substantiate this claim. The first demand of UWE’s camp for education was to “inform students about the concrete actions that [you and the governors] are taking in engaging with and challenging the government policies”. You did not share any specific information about such actions.

3. You say: “I fully support the University Alliance's position and the Universities UK Board statement that agree with the Government’s proposals for an increase in the graduate contribution as the best available option, given the circumstances.” As such, before the vote has taken place, you announce that you actively support a reform to triple tuition fees.

On the one hand, you admit that you failed to convince government, while being incapable of saying anything about what concrete actions you took to influence or persuade them. On the other hand, your letter announces that you are actively supporting the reform for tripled tuition fees before the vote.

We believe that your intervention was inappropriate and therefore detrimental to the interests of students, staff, our university and higher education.

UWE Camp for Education

1 £850bn: official cost of the bank bailout

2 Spending Review: Universities braced for deep cuts

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