On the eve of parliament's vote on top-up fees, optimism meets realism at Kingston University's public meeting on the ongoing tuition fee debate.

Vice Chancellor resigned to fee rise defeat

Sir Peter Scott, Kingston’s Vice Chancellor and one of the most out-spoken critics of the government’s plan to raise tuition fees, last night admitted defeat looked certain.

After addressing a public meeting in the Jacqueline Wilson lecture hall which saw university and guest speakers discuss the ongoing issues of university funding and student finance, Sir Peter said he was resigned to fees increase.

Sir Peter said: “I’m not banking on any last minute reprieves.  It will go through. I think it’s bound to happen.  You can’t just give up though.”

Students, lecturers and activists plan on fighting to the end with another day of protest planned in London for Thursday’s vote.

At Wednesday evening’s meeting, some speakers refused to believe the fight was lost. Dr Andrew Higginbottom, Kingston’s University College Union representative, said: “I don’t think it’s inevitable at all.  If people don’t accept it then its not over.  I want people to continue to fight.”

Mr Higginbottom, who is also a politics lecturer at Kingston, added:  “It took five years for Thatcher to get a revolt like this, it has taken Cameron and the Con-Dems five months.”

Kingston Students Union president TJ Esubiyi, who was the first speaker of the evening, was hesitant about predicting Thursday’s outcome: “I don’t know if it’s inevitable… maybe its false optimism, we’re not giving up just yet.”

It also emerged that TJ had undergone a change of political heart in the past year: “Although I still do like the sound of politics, originally I would have joined the Liberal Democrats, but recent events have seriously changed my mind.”

Sir Peter was also critical of the Liberal Democrats: “Lib Dems deserve to lose their seats at the next election.  Clegg has become a Tory, I think he should run as a Tory at the next election.”

Sir Peter, who is leaving the university at the end of this term, said: “I’ve got mixed feelings about leaving, you could say it was good timing.  It does seem a bit of a cop-out to be leaving, but of course I will miss Kingston a lot.”

“But I’ve done what I can.  In the short term, there’s not much you can do about it.”

Sir Peter also revealed Labour’s hesitancy on the issue of student finance, after meeting with Ed Miliband and Alan Johnson last week.

He said: “I don’t think there’s a strong feeling they can change it.  I think Labour are going to take a long time to think about an alternative.”

Thursday’s vote will coincide with a day of demonstrations and lobbying.  For more information on the parliamentary vote click here.

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  1. On one hand, Prof Scott voices his objections to the government’s planned increase in fees.  On the other hand, he readily accepted on behalf of the University the proceeds of top up fees imposed by New Labour.  Had he continued on at KU, would he have accepted proceeds of further top up fees?  

    The government rules simply allow universities to charge £9000/year.  But these rules do not mandate the charging of £9000/year.  Universities are free to charge whatever they like up to the maximum amount authorised by government.  

    What could KU do in lieu of charging the maximum allowed by the government to ensure that students receive a high quality education?  Would Prof Scott have agreed to take a cut in pay himself?  Would he have agreed to, in the future, refrain from spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on legal fees to silence whistleblowers (n.b. the University spent nearly £500,000 on one recent case alone), so that more staff could be hired to accommodate increased student numbers?  Would Prof Scott have considered defying government Widening Participation/Access policies so that the percentage of full-fee-paying students accepted to the University increased in order to be able to charge lower fees for all, and so that a reduced level of staffing didn’t result in diminished student experience?

    It would be interesting to know what actions Prof Julius Weinberg will take vis-a-vis these issues.

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