Are you sitting comfortably?

Once upon a time, my mum grew up on Saffron Lane council estate in Leicester. It was hard to make ends meet, although she was one of the plucky poor who only had to dress in rags every other week and she was hardly ever forced up a chimney. Her parents both worked to keep the family going. Her mum had three jobs as well as three children to look after. When my mum was fourteen, even though she wanted to stay on at school, her parents had to break the news to her that she couldn’t. They couldn’t afford for her not to be working, so she had to leave. This was devastating to her, particularly, as a few years later when her sisters were the same age, the family were better off, and both sisters were able to stay on at school.

Mum did lots of different jobs, but she did love learning best, and eventually, she moved from running a playgroup, to becoming a teaching assistant, to working in the area of special needs, at a time when most children were just labelled as thick or lazy if they didn’t get it. She was a fearless warrior for these children, fantastic at her job and helped hundreds of people over the years.

Eventually when I was about twenty, and at university, she realised that she wanted to go to university too. She found out that she could get a place, but only if she could get on an adult learning access course first.

That’s where Leicester’s Vaughan College came in.

It changed her life. It’s still changing people’s lives.

In the Sixties, Leicester was not as famous as it is now. Our only claims to fame were the fact that we spawned the perma-tanned, demi-wave crooner, Engelbert Humperdinck, and had invented a kind of boring tasting cheese which we said was ‘red’ and everyone knew was as orange as a house brick. We did, however, shine as a centre of excellence for adult learning. We were a city at the forefront of encouraging its citizens to better themselves and giving them top notch facilities to do it in. I’m much prouder of that than the fact that my heritage is partly based on the song ‘Please Release Me,’ honestly and promisedly I am.

In fact, Vaughan College was actually founded in 1862 to give under privileged working men access to higher education. It’s been doing it ever since, and in our enlightened times it also accepts women into its classrooms, as long as they promise not to swoon when faced with tricky writing tasks.

Except it’s not going to be allowed to do it for much longer.

It is now owned by the University of Leicester, and its Vice Chancellor has decided to shut it down. Apparently it is running at a loss, says the man who has been systematically asset stripping it of its most valuable courses for some time, and integrating them into the departments he does want to fund. Apparently it’s struggling for students says the man who took 300 of those students who signed up to study business and gave them to another department, and who has blithely ignored the fact that applications for the few courses he can’t be bothered to steal have gone up by 100% in the last academic year.

Seventy staff will lose their jobs in a post Brexit climate where EU funding is being pulled from universities left, right and centre, and conservative estimates give the figure of a 15% drop in funding across higher education and university research projects.

Many students will be short changed because the two year higher education course they do is not transferable to many other places, and some of the courses that Vaughan are still allowed to run, like the drug and alcohol counselling course, are as rare as hen’s teeth. The masters in Global ecology they offer, is the only one in the entire country. It’s going, along with everything else.

Many disadvantaged people in my city will suffer, not only because Vaughan is one of the very few places that still offers people a second chance at getting a degree with its higher education course acting as a passport into university life and the cheapest fees I’ve ever seen at £3,000 a year, but also because of what it takes away in other areas.

Vaughan college specialises in training counsellors who often stay and use their skills in a city where the adult social care budget is already in debt to the tune of £4 million and rising, and mental health is the most poorly resourced area in the city. This pipeline from college to helping the most disadvantaged people in our community will be severed from September.

It will be severed because the Vice Chancellor is voraciously chasing the fees of rich overseas students when he could easily be helping those people he lives and works amongst every day.

I know that this closure is not directly related to what happened on Friday, but it is going to make a much more severe impact on people post Brexit if even half the dire economic pronouncements come true. It shows, yet again, that the people who are supposed to be supporting us are more interested in filling their pockets than actually helping.

If you are as frustrated by this as I am and you want to do something to start inching the world  back towards being more humane, and compassionate again, please take a moment to sign this petition.

You can follow what’s happening on Twitter at @savevaughan  or by searching #savevaughan.

If you live in Leicester there will be a rally on the 14th July in the town centre. I will update details when I get them.

For a future we can bear to live in, we have to fight harder than ever now to save the things that make us better as a human race. Vaughan college is one of those things. It has been helping disenfranchised people find their voice for over one hundred years. Surely that’s worth fighting for?



30 responses to “Are you sitting comfortably?

  1. I don’t live in Leicester but I signed the petition because education isn’t just for the few, it should be for everyone. Both of my parents left school to work, my mum is now studying for her doctorate. I hope the college can be saved, too many have already been lost.

  2. Signed. My mum did Access to Nursing in her 40s and is now an excellent nurse.

  3. V, North London

    Signed. Both my parents became teachers because they worked during the day and studied at ‘nightschool’ in the 1950s. I studied at the Mary Ward Centre/Morley College/City Lit in London and then went on to get an Open University degree. Smaller, unique institutions have an important role to play, as you’ve so eloquently explained.

  4. Signed, education for all

  5. Signed! I don’t live in Leicester either but this disasterous chipping away at Adult Education must stop. The opportunities for those who don’t fit the conventional educational route mould are becoming few and far between. I look back and think of what was on offer to me, during the 1970s and 80s, at day and evening classes, and think I was incredibly lucky to have such great opportunities compared to the dearth of courses available now. Good luck with the campaigning!

  6. Makes me almost weep with frustration Katy. No links to Leicester, but have signed. We need to fight on every front we can against these people who try to reduce everything to profit and loss

  7. I can’t sign since i’m german, sorry.
    Having to pay for education and even worse educational institutions having to earn money is an idea so fundamentaly flawed it boggles the mind. A well educated population should be one of the highest goals since it is the best insurance a country can have.
    Limiting adult education has an own place in the halls of stupidity since it hinders those who decided for themself to strive for more. No pressure by parents or society, but mostly the idea to make more of oneself.
    I wish you good luck for the campaign.

  8. I’m a new follower and after following for three days I find you’re from Leicester. Nice one! I live Up North now but for the first 37 years of my life Leicester was my home too. I love that it is no longer ‘joke city’ and love even more that they voted to remain in the EU. Maybe I should move back………

  9. Signed. Thank you for sharing. I know Leicester and have friends there. (I once worked for a company who make Red Leicester cheese!) Yes, completely agree that lifelong learning is vital for progress and to avoid making the same mistakes again and again… oh, wait

  10. Signed. New follower (yesterday ‘are you happy now?”, for which many thanks. My head has stopped wailing incoherently). Back to topic any college that truly educates – rather than those run with a view to making a pile of money so they can buy a bunch of personal toys and sweets – has my vote. All the best, katyboo1.

  11. I didn’t realise that universities received EU funding. Will the knock-ons of Brexit never end? A friend of mine lost her job yesterday as a direct result of Brexit

    • A lot of research is done using EU grant funding, particularly medical research funding, sadly. I am so sorry to hear about your friend.

    • smerlinchesters

      Leicester Uni receives a lot of funding from EU. Several departments also got donations from Eu states, which allowed several people to apply for paid PhDs. I guess all is gone now. Think that after Brexit I’ll be one of the few students who will graduate at Leicester under the present system. Then it’ll be over and they will rise fees for British students and overseas students. I’m still trying to come to terms with the logic of it, I see none at the moment.

  12. Signed. As if we have not just had a painful reminder that education should be at the top of our national priority list. Diminishing educational opportunity for anyone, anywhere, should be out of the question regardless of political persuasion. Grrrr!

  13. OK, I have signed too, let us hope that it works.

  14. smerlinchesters

    I don’t live in Leicester (although I’ll be likely there for some time next week) but I’ve been doing one of their distance learning degrees since 2013. I’ve signed the petition, a shame these lifelong learning centres get closed down all over the country.
    Education is one of the fields that will be hit the hardest by Brexit. Anyone in an university or higher education environment who voted Leave, well they need to check themselves at a GP or mental health centre. Sorry, but I need to be harsh and no pity there. I’ve found leavers with PhDs stating there would be more money for universities after Brexit, even *cough cough* thinking that the infamous 350 millions would be distributed among the universities. Who the heck gave them a PhD… I’m in a humanities degree course but I possess enough mathematical and critical thinking skills to see that:
    1) if you lose the EU funding for research and donations;
    2) if you lose the fees paid by EU students (which are the same as Uk students at present) because they won’t be able to afford them anymore as overseas students;
    3) if you lose all the loans that SLC has been paying to EU students (surely they don’t think Student Finance England will be able to get back most of that money, right? Limit for asking it back is 22k sterling pounds, for example average wage to enter the job market in Italy is 17k euros, can they do the math… ?!?!);
    Big question… do they REALLY think the British government is going to fill the hole?
    I’m sorry for UK young students of the lower classes who will be deprived of the opportunity to access the higher education system. Advice: move all to Scotland before they start making the university students pay the fees 😉

    • Well, there was talk in the papers a few months ago about removing the cap on university fees for students, too. They’ve gone quiet on that, but I bet they haven’t forgotten. It’s a disaster for education.

      • smerlinchesters

        They were busy splitting the country in a few pieces, that’s why it fell into the backburner. They will return to that topic after pulling the article 50. It is not even possible they won’t rise the fees at this point. Government won’t surely fund all the universities whilst busy into patching up the financial situation. Curious to see the fees for anyone starting in September 2016….

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