Toope wrote that he shared CUSU president Daisy Eyre's concerns for the future of higher educationComposite: Louis Ashworth

Stephen Toope, Cambridge’s vice-chancellor, sided with CUSU today in arguing current strikes and demonstrations – including the ongoing occupation of a central University building – are the product of universities acting like businesses.

In Toope’s intervention, made in a letter to The Times, he wrote that he shared the concerns of Daisy Eyre, CUSU’s president, that current actions are “about the future of higher education, continued marketisation and the move towards students as consumers”.

Referencing a series of recent statements and concessions he has made in the ongoing staff pensions dispute, Toope wrote: “We continue to seek a fair and viable long-term solution but it would be a mistake to assume that the anger directed at university leadership is all about pensions.”

“Reducing students to mere consumers makes sense only if the value of universities is simply economic. That would be a fundamental error,” he added.

Toope’s latest comments come on the fifth day of the student occupation at Old Schools, the building adjacent to Senate House where much of the University of Cambridge’s central administration is housed, and follow weeks of strikes by academics that have led to cancelled teaching and picket lines across several lecture sites.


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In recent days, the vice-chancellor has made a series of statements and concessions: offering the University’s financial support to bolster staff pensions, and saying that Cambridge will not expect academics who have gone on strike to reschedule teaching time without compensation, a reversal of earlier policy. He has also agreed to participate in an open meeting later today, at which he will address questions from the public.

His letter today criticised the “value for money” focus of the current review into higher education, which has been ongoing for several years and was marked recently by the scandal-hit launch of the Office for Students – recently criticised by Commissioner for Public Appointments for showing partisan bias in its selection of board members.

Toope called for a “broader debate” about the role on universities as part of the government’s ongoing review into nationwide higher education provision, saying: “The focus should be on what values our society expects to see reflected in our universities, not only value for money.”