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article imageThink tank: Public universities in UK under threat

By Andrew John     Dec 13, 2010 in World
A religious think tank in the United Kingdom is predicting the end of public universities, after the coalition government voted to allow a huge rise in tuition fees.
Ekklesia quotes Professor John Heathershaw, of the University of Exeter, who says: “It is difficult not to conclude that recent wrangles about funding are taking place in the twilight of the public university.”
His comments come amid student unrest throughout the UK over the Con–Dem coalition’s plan to raise the cap on fees from just over £3,000 to £9,000. Students have held sit-ins and demonstrations, some of them leading to violence. One student in London last week was hospitalized after being beaten by police.
And a Rolls-Royce carrying Charles, Prince of Wales, and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was daubed with paint and had a window smashed as it was taking the couple to the Royal Variety Performance.
Under the headline “Future of public universities at stake, says thinktank,” Ekklesia says the way to plug the gap in funding for tertiary education would be through a business tax that would help to ensure the funding of universities. It would not affect 96% of businesses, says the think tank.
“What the government is presently doing is not just increasing fees beyond the reach of many ordinary people but eliminating a whole tranche of funding, which imperils the very future of public universities in Britain,” says the organization’s associate director Symon Hill.
Ekklesia says that students at Exeter University and elsewhere “have been showing the way by using their protest sit-ins against cuts and higher fees to highlight the need to consider funding options within the wider context of education, society and the economy, rather than the other way round.”
Heathershaw adds: “In reality, we [universities] have been less public and less universal for years. The fees vote in parliament is one more nail in the coffin of both the idea and practice of the university as a public good. But our discussions at Exeter show that there are alternatives. We need to refocus on them.”
Poorer students
The latest blow to students is a plan to end their maintenance allowance, and students, school pupils and trade unionists are holding a day of action today.
This is a weekly grant of up to £30 to help students from poorer backgrounds to stay at school between the ages of 16 and 18.
“Protesters claim that receiving the support is often the decisive factor for poor teenagers in deciding whether to continue their studies,” according to the Metro newspaper.
The paper quotes Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, who said the allowance “a vital lifeline for many students” and could be “the difference between people being able to study at college or being priced out.”
Meanwhile, the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, has said that the allowance would be replaced with “targeted support for those who face genuine financial barriers to participation.”
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