According to a spokesperson, the aim of the group is to create “an effective campaign to defend public service provision.”
The group, consisting of both University students and staff, held its first open meeting on 8 February. Over 120 students and staff were present.
“Our primary focus is to promote and protect education, and higher education in particular. We believe in universities as communities of learning whose purpose is to create a more educated, humane and open society and which should seek to be as inclusive as possible of all sections of society” stated one of the many speakers of the night.
According to Patrick O’Hare, a fourth year student and one of the group’s members, the group “will work to ensure that the stated commitment of the University of St Andrews to social inclusion and social equality is upheld in practice and we will challenge any actions of the University authorities which serve to threaten jobs, undermine student provision or limit access to the institution.”
He adds that the group has currently been concentrating on stopping the increase of tuition fees. So far, they have collected over 1,500 signatures for a petition.
The Scottish government has stated that its official position will only be taken after the elections on May 5th, 2011. However, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has ruled out a return to tuition fees.
Currently, Scottish students who remain studying in Scotland do not pay tuition fees. The current economic climate has already led to a 5% cut in education funding to the Scottish budget.
A recent Green Paper has set out numerous funding options for the university: the introduction of graduate tax, an increase in fees for English and Welsh students and increased philanthropic donations and investments from Scottish businesses.
The University of St Andrews has since increased part-time tuition fees by 40%, and has been forced to cut jobs in Estates and Catering Services in order to alleviate financial pressures. The group argues that the University makes unpopular decisions such as these behind closed doors.
O’Hare says the group hopes that future meetings will lead to collaboration with local trade union groups and voluntary groups in a bid to “convince St Andrews town and gown that cuts, especially in the education sector and in our university, are not necessary!”
St Andrews Against Cuts will campaign to “build an an inclusive anti-cuts movement which encompasses all those who live and work in St Andrews,” O’Hare adds.
Natela Outtier and Jasmine Wheelhouse