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Former Sussex student gives back degree in protest against higher education cuts

A former student of the University of Sussex has handed back his degree in protest over government cuts and fee rises which he considers “grossly unfair”. Mr Keith Jago graduated from University of Sussex in 1974 with a degree in Engineering with Social Sciences. He was shocked at the Conservative and Liberal-Democrat government plans to allow universities to charge upwards of £6,000 a year.

Mr Jago believes that “this government is unleashing a genie that they won’t get back in the bottle” and that the consequence of drastic cuts and fee-rises is that it “denies equality of opportunity” and “impact on socio-economic groups that most need support – like the poor youngsters”. In early November, Mr Jago paid a visit to the alumni office in Bramber House, and showed how he felt about the cuts by giving his degree back. He said he would also consider “asking for the opportunity to walk back across the stage and give it back, and receive an un-handshake”.

After the Browne Report was published, the government revealed plans for drastic cuts to universities funding and a push for fees of upwards of £6,000 a year. It sparked a wave of student protests up and down the country, including 52,000 people marching in London on the NUS/UCU demo earlier this month against education cuts. Shortly after the national demonstrations there was a five-day long occupation of the Fulton building on the Sussex campus, and with similar occupations and local protests at universities around the country, it seems students are not ready to back down.

Mr Jago says he is “utterly in support of students”, and urged Sussex students to “fight, fight and fight again for the education system we deserve”, although he also added this his “advice would be to behave yourselves!” Mr Jago believes it is important to remember that “peaceful demonstration is part of civil society”, and that it is important to express a clear position on cuts and fee-raises: “You must win this one, the future depends on this.”

Before the election on 6 May this year, Lib-Dem candidates, including Nick Clegg and 54 of the 57 elected Lib-Dem MPs, signed the NUS Vote for Students pledge, which read “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”.

Nick Clegg performed a dramatic U-turn on this promise after the announcement of a coalition government between Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats, saying he wished he had not been so “hasty” in saying he would end tuition fees. Mr Jago describes the Liberal-Democrats as “no more than Tories”, and believes that they “have no right to be there”, in his opinion. Mr Jago is shocked “that the government can go back on its word in such an underhand way”.

Mr Jago is in good position to comment on the situation, having been involved in politics himself; he was a Labour candidate for Woodingdean in the 1993 county council elections. In response to whether he thinks that cuts are absolutely necessary, he replied: “of course not, there are alternatives” and thinks that the situation needs to be re-examined, and the current situation is that the “wealthy are getting wealthier, and will grow even wealthier under the Tories”.

When asked whether he would go to university if there had been the prospect of £50,000 debt, Mr Jago commented: “of course not, I am from a poor family that grew up in the local area”. Mr Jago thinks that the government “realise what they are doing”, and in carrying out the cut plans, are going to cause “serious civil unrest” and “massive social instability.”

The University of Sussex issued this statement in response to Mr Jago’s handing back of his degree: “It would not be appropriate to comment on any individual decision made by one of our tens of thousands of alumni. “It must be a matter for individuals to decide how they express their views, but we are not aware of any other protests of this type. Nor have we seen any suggestions elsewhere that this would be an effective form of protest against government policy”.
Mr Jago did not undertake his actions with the aim of helping himself, instead he was trying to unite students and encourage them to do “everything you can to force them to back down.” He expressed his hope to “start a movement of mass sending-back-your-degrees” and inspire others to do the same.

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