Oxford students want Patten stripped of fellowship: Fran Abrams and Ilsa Godlovitch report on the clash between a minister and his old college

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The Independent Online
STUDENTS at Oxford University, where John Patten used to be a don, have called for the Secretary of State for Education to be removed from his position as a fellow of his old college, Hertford, when it comes up for review.

Members of the junior and middle common rooms at Hertford, where Mr Patten taught geography between 1969 and 1979, are meeting to discuss the issue after a series of personal attacks made by him on members of Oxford's academic community. Student grant cuts of 10 per cent, imposed in the budget, have further inflamed the situation.

Since students demonstrated against the cuts outside Mr Patten's constituency surgery in Botley, Oxford, in December, tempers have become increasingly frayed. In Parliament, Mr Patten accused the demonstrators of displaying 'university yobbishness of the worst kind'. He also wrote an angry letter to Cherwell, the Oxford student newspaper.

In an interview with Cherwell, to be published today, Mr Patten described the student union president of Oxford Brookes University, Sarah Brierley, who visited his surgery with a delegation on the day of the demonstration, as 'some hopeless woman'. He said Clive Booth, vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes, had displayed poor leadership in not staying to remonstrate with the students.

Mr Patten then attacked the vice-master of Balliol, Andrew Graham, who had commented that the Secretary of State had 'over-reacted' to the demonstration in his Oxford West and Abingdon constituency. 'If the vice-master of Balliol is encouraging people to go and demonstrate, to chant, to shout and upset elderly constituents, if he thinks that is something admirable, then that is pretty shocking - a pretty good reflection on declining standards,' Mr Patten said.

Yesterday, the president of Hertford College junior common room, Michael Barnard, said Mr Patten's remarks had influenced students' calls for him to be stripped of his fellowship, which gives him a seat on the college governing body. 'At best, he has not been particularly sensitive, and, on top of that, the cuts in maintenance grants are obviously going to affect students here,' Mr Barnard said.

The governing body will decide whether to renew the fellowship, which Mr Patten has held since 1972, at a meeting to be held next month. It could be terminated when it expires in April, or alternatively it could become 'emeritus'.

The principal, Sir Christopher Zeeman, who will chair the meeting, has refused to comment on Mr Patten's chances of re-election, or on relations between him and the Oxford academic community. However, he has attacked Mr Patten's education policies.

'The worst thing students suffer is hardship, and that is a direct result of the Government not keeping grants in line with inflation,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)