Tristan Learoyd: 'The changes to funding go against all that universities are about'

Learoyd is one of the country's highest-flying academics. But he's leaving education for ever in protest at the changes to funding. He tells Richard Garner why

By any standards, Tristan Learoyd is one of the country's highest-flying academics. He became the youngest person in history to be elected to the English Pharmacy Board towards the tail end of last year. And, by the age of 29, he has had more than 20 peer-reviewed articles on pharmaceutical research published in learned academic journals.

Soon, though, he will be lost to the university world for good as a result of quitting in protest at the planned rises in tuition fees and the Government's changes to the way universities are funded. In his letter of resignation to the University of Sunderland – where he is employed as senior lecturer in pharmacy – he says: "I refuse to teach where it will be the content of somebody's wallet – not the content of their character – that will determine academic success."

Dr Learoyd was born and brought up in a working-class community in Teesside and was in the first generation in his immediate family to go to university. "Tuition fees didn't put me off then – it was £1,000 a year, not the problem you've got now," he said. "Now, there could be a £9,000-a-year price tag on some courses. If I had to make the same decision again – no, I couldn't go. You'd end up with debts of £36,000 by the end of it."

Dr Learoyd believes the Government's higher-education reforms have subtly changed the relationship between lecturers, their students and the universities. "The student arrives at university expecting a degree because they've paid for it," he said. "The lecturer is faced with a target of getting 90 per cent of students through their exams set by the institution and they feel they've got to meet it."

His frustration with the changes come through starkly in that resignation letter: "With regards to promotion, any lecturer who aligns themselves to the market principles or the leadership of an institution receives the best working conditions and promotion," he says. "This goes against the principles of what a university is supposed to represent. It is no longer skill, talent or qualifications that are recognised – it is compliance."

Dr Learoyd acknowledges that he is in a better position to make what he calls a "principled stand" against the changes than others, as he is a single man. He plans to move back in with his parents when he leaves the university for the last time next month. "Some of my fellow academics, I am sure, would like to do likewise, but they have families to support," he says. "A university education should emancipate the individual... With the expansion of neoliberal market principles and the resultant privatisation of universities, lecturers have become nothing but workers labouring to produce a product in competition with other institutions."

His decision comes as protests over the rise in tuition fees begin to hot up again after a Christmas lull. There were two marches over the weekend – in Manchester and London – protesting the proposals. Twenty people were arrested as a result of clashes during the demonstrations.

There is also growing evidence that a substantial number of universities are ready to go for the maximum option of £9,000 a year if allowed, though most are officially keeping their cards close to their chests until after they have more details of the regulatory regime for going above the £6,000-a-year minimum.

Aaron Porter, the President of the National Union of Students, said discussions he had had with universities led him to believe that around seven out of 10 would go for the maximum charge. John Denham, Labour's spokesman on Business, Innovation and Skills, also said many of the universities he had spoken to had indicated they wanted to go for the full £9,000.

He has written to the Office for Fair Access (Offa), the regulator, asking for guidance on how it will approach requests from universities to charge above the floor figure. He believes it is significant that, while Universities minister David Willetts told MPs in the House of Commons that universities would be able to charge a higher figure only in "exceptional circumstances", this phrase was left out of draft guidance sent to Sir Martin Harris, head of Offa, outlining how it should proceed.

"Dr Learoyd came into university teaching thinking that his work would give ordinary people better life chances, and it is very sad that he has now reached the conclusion that universities will no longer do that," said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union. "He has clearly made a fantastic contribution and will be a great loss to his students and colleagues."

Under the Government's plans, fees will rise to between £6,000 and £9,000 a year from September next year. At present, they are £3,240 a year. As a result of public spending cuts, 80 per cent of the teaching budget will be slashed, with government support available only for science, maths, engineering, technology, and some language courses.

Dr Learoyd's resignation – he is now planning to train as a lawyer – comes as student protests over the planned rises are set to resume, with two demonstrations planned at the end of next week. Some of his colleagues are hoping his stance will provoke just as much heart-searching at the centre of power as the actions of those who take to the streets, if not more.

Tuition fees: the repercussions

Tristan Learoyd is not the only person facing a rethink about his future as a result of the plans to raise tuition fees.

Aaron Porter, the President of the National Union of Students, is facing an increasingly bitter battle to hold on to his job as a result of condemning violence at the fees protests and, his opponents claim, failing to give enough support to student sit-ins and occupations. He is standing for a second term in office this year and is expected to be opposed by at least two student activists from the further-left. He had to have a police escort at the weekend demonstration in Manchester, where he was heckled and abused.

Some students have had their career plans halted abruptly – notably Edward Woollard, a student at Brockenhurst sixth-form College in the New Forest, who was jailed for 32 months after throwing a fire extinguisher off the roof of the Conservative Party headquarters at Millbank during the first demonstration.

Further trials are due to start later this month, including that of Charlie Gilmour, stepson of the Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, who was charged with criminal disorder and the theft of a mannequin leg from Topshop. He will appear at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court next week.

The Liberal Democrats party hasseen its share of the vote plummet in recent opinion polls – though the latest shows a rise of two percentage points to 13 per cent. That is still way behind their election support.

Some – particularly those representing university constituencies – are facing students seeking to use planned "right to recall" legislation – aimed at ousting MPs guilty of malpractice – to unseat them if they fail to live up to their election pledge to vote against fee rises.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: KS1 KS2 Crewe Teacher Perm Ch...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education is the lea...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: KS1 KS2 Teaching Cheshire

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Long term position in large p...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit