Nothing Will Change, Willett?

Yesterday Hampshire MP and Minister for Universities & Science David Willetts visited the University. Willetts – nicknamed “Two-Brains” due to his acclaimed intelligence and large forehead (photos don’t do it […]

Yesterday Hampshire MP and Minister for Universities & Science David Willetts visited the University.

Willetts – nicknamed “Two-Brains” due to his acclaimed intelligence and large forehead (photos don’t do it justice…seriously, it’s massive) – gave a seminar in Building 37 at 1pm yesterday.

Willetts emerging from the Student Services building yesterday, faced with a 30-strong protest.


His visit was met with interest among students for two main reasons.

First of all, he upset feminists across the country (God help him) back in April last year with his insights voiced during the launch of the Government’s social mobility strategy; he (logically) claimed that since the increase of women’s rights, women who would otherwise have been housewives and baby-makers had taken the university places and well-paid jobs that would previously have gone to working-class men; in Willetts’ opinion, this was the ‘single most important factor’ that made the job market as competitive as it is today. Despite describing the boost of opportunities for women as “entirely admirable” and claiming that “it is not a bad thing that women had these opportunities”, Willetts has nonetheless borne the brunt of much criticism because of these statements.

The only other human with a forehead this big is Rihanna

As if this weren’t enough, Willetts was the one responsible for the £9k tuition fee news back in November 2010 – you’ll probably remember all the protests. Willetts remained (relatively) unscathed after that whole debacle, with most of the frustration being taken out on Nick Clegg (at least, as a Conservative, people KNEW Willetts was in favour of higher tuition fees).

Today’s protest was, from the outside, reminiscent of those of November 2010 – boards flashing slogans like “FIGHT FEES AND CUTS”, “SOUTHAMPTON YOUTH FIGHT FOR JOBS” – but speaking to protest co-ordinator George Disney made me realise what their real problem was.


Of course we’re upset about the fees going up to £9k, but we’re also upset about the privatisation of university education.


What bugs me most about the £9k situation is that English or History students at a good university, who receive 6 hours contact time a week (4 in some universities!), will be paying the same amount as medical students who will be receiving about 23 hours.

But bringing this up with George made me take on a different perspective.

Yes, some courses require more contact time than others, but we don’t want tension between disciplines. Every discipline is worthwhile.

He went on to argue that the privatisation of university education has turned a degree into an economic investment; it shouldn’t be a case of “£x for y hours of contact time”, “£2x for 2y hours of contact time”, etc – George reckons education shouldn’t be something that is bought and sold.

Never give a Tory a megaphone

As David Willetts came out of the student services building he was faced with an impressive torrent of questioning and chants. One lecturer even said to him “I earn a good salary. Tax me!! Tax me and save them!”, and while Willetts ended the questions with a civilised “I’m glad we share the same sentiment on the value of education”, George Disney told him “we’ll tell you how the situation is in 10 years, hopefully you won’t still be in office then”.

Willetts gets his Disneyland experience: nothing Mickey Mouse here

Although today’s gathering wasn’t quite as bad as some of those that he saw in November 2010, Southampton Students for Education put on an impressive protest (and managed to really make Willetts struggle to get a word in edgeways at some points!) I don’t think he’ll be forgetting his visit to Hampshire’s finest educational establishment in a while.