Tuition Fees Minister ‘Upset’ by visit to UEA

David Willetts trebled tuition fees and faced a HOSTILE crowd when he came to give his talk today.

David Willetts tuition fees uea Universities minister

This is an news update following on from this story here:


PLEASE SCROLL THROUGH THE PHOTOS (courtesy of the lovely Ga Chun Yao) 


The minister responsible for the massive tuition fee hike came to give a talk at UEA this evening and it proved to be a fantastically drama-filled debate.

He graced our concrete jungle to lecture us on 'What government is good for.'

But his lecture was continuously interrupted as his freedom of speech was not properly respected by a few rowdy individuals who attended.

While David Willetts was not forced off stage like he was when he went to lecture students at Cambridge, he was heckled throughout and forced to stop at one point.

Ian Hare, a student who attended the talk, said: “To those of you heckling all the way through the talk: you should realise that all you have achieved is to make yourselves look foolish and convince the public that you don't deserve to be taken seriously.”

Vacuous insults and interruptions do not constitute a meaningful political discussion. You are an embarrassment to your own cause and to public philosophical and political intercourse in general,” he added.

Judging by the stern looks from the hundreds of others who attended and how they were openly told to “shut up” and “be quiet” it would seem like most of the others in the packed out lecture theater agree.

Even Dr Alex Brown, a PSI lecturer, was mindlessly shouted at with things like “people before profits” in spite of the fact that was entirely irrelevant to what he was saying.

Although, thankfully, not during his superb reenactment of the Life of Brian scene "what have the Romans ever done for us?".

While most the disturbance was coming from those in the protest that preceded the event, Cal Corkery – the organiser – provided an example of how they ought to have conducted themselves.

After politely listening throughout, and during the Q & A session at the end, he gave his speech against the wishes of Willetts' spin doctors to a huge round of applause.

Meanwhile David Willetts’ talk itself was a weird mix of abstract arguments, with analogies involving Amazonian tribes and calories, and a boring PR stunt to promote his work in government.

Amongst all of that he dropped a couple of juicy soundbites which included: “We do not consider the quality of the education provided”; and “that we should not let the myths about free market America put us off doing the same here.”


Those sorts of views were behind his desire to treble tuition fees and cut government spending on university education, and it is what has earned him a Vote of No Confidence by the Union.

Tash Ross, the Student Rights union officer, told the Drop that David Willetts said he found the vote of no confidence "hard not to take it personally" and that it was "upsetting."

This might explain why, following the Q & A session whereby he avoided answering questions, Mr Willetts mysteriously vanished off stage without even shaking the hands of the Chairman, the Vice Chancellor, or Dr Alex Brown! 

Or maybe he's just unfriendly. 





Question & Answer Session


Pretty much all the questions were against Willetts himself, the government as a whole, or about the new tuition fee system in place. 

It included one girl passionately telling him how her family home was repossessed and that they were struggling financially so that, when he triples tuition fees up to £9000 a year, it put her little sister off going to university altogether. She told him how, regardless of whether the fees are not up front and regardless of the fairer pay back system now in place, the reforms were "scary."

When David Willetts replied saying the debt incurred will be paid back through what is effectively a 9% graduate tax on earnings over £21,000 rather than the debt you'd get on a credit card. But it did not stop someone bellowing: "You have £2 million and you've always been so privileged you don't understand what it's like."

That was one of the few questions the minister actually answered adequately, even if it was with the same spiel he's been using for the past 23 months. 


Most questions he dodged with used unusual anologies or (more frequently) with lots of technical detail to try and throw people off.

So, for example, when I critiqued something he said in his speech with this…

"You said in your speech that we should not let the myths of free market America put us off doing the same here. Now I presume you're talking about their university education system and you're clearly not put off. 

Why else did you let Apollo, an American firm, set up a university here when they're still being investigated for fraud and wrongly using goverment money back in America? Why did you meet up with another American firm called the Education Management Corporation despite the fact they're accused of wrongly using $11billion of US government education funds? 

While the "myths" about free market America does not put you off, why doesn't fraud?"


…and he merely replied with a detailed explanation of how we have a different system to what they have in the US, whilst avoiding whether it was morally right to be dealing with a potentially crooked companies like that at all. 

When I raised my hand to point this out to him, he made sure to abruptly turn his head away from me and that was that. 

And his lame response there was typical of how irritating his 'answers' were altogether.

Cal Corkery's Speech

David Willetts is the Minister responsible for the tripling of tuition fees and the introduction of the White Paper, which sets out the Coalition governments plans for the wholesale marketisation of Higher Education.

Education is a public good that provides benefits to the individual and to society that can't be quantified in economic terms. What price do you put on individual development? What price do you put on an educated, tolerant, successful society? To portray the value of education solely in terms of economic returns is misguided and misleading.

This government has made clear, through its attempts to privatise and commodify Higher Education that it only values education only insofar as the economic benefit it produces. 

We have already seen the first signs of the lasting damage that this government is doing to Higher Education in the loss of UEA’s School of Music, a move justified by management as a response to government changes to student funding and allocation. 

A report published last week by the Intergenerational Foundation found that ‘there is likely to be no saving to the public sector finances from the reforms to higher education funding’. This is part of a worrying trend in government policy whereby reforms driven by ideological prejudice are portrayed as acts of economic necessity but are in fact doing considerable damage not only to long term government finances but to the economy as a whole. This government has proven its economic illiteracy. Its dogmatic doctrine of austerity has tipped the UK economy back into recession and forced thousands onto the dole. 

Perhaps the best example of this governments complete divorce from reality and public opinion is the continued occupation of Afghanistan. The cost of which is reported to be close to £20billion, enough to put over 740,000 students through 3 years of university. Not to mention the 414 British soldiers and 24,000 Afghan civilians who have lost their lives in the conflict. 

It’s time to re-find the anger and passion that characterised the student revolt towards the end of 2010. NUS is organising a national student demonstration this autumn and has also pledged to support the TUC demo this October. We take inspiration from Chile and Canada where students have won major concessions from their governments through continued campaigns of protest and direct action. This autumn we are set to see a fresh wave of strikes, protests and occupations. As students we will be at the forefront of this movement, leading the campaign against austerity and against the Coalition government.

The Union of UEA Students and NUS have both democratically passed motions calling for Willetts to resign. He is an unpopular minister in an unpopular government. It is time for him to go and to take his fellow cabinet millionaires with him, back to the investment banks and Oxbridge colleges from whence they came.