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?