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Blast off

The commitment of college staff at all levels to the education maintenance allowance (EMA) has been a real inspiration: their selfless campaign isn't based on pay claims or colleges' finances, but on principles of equal access.

But not everyone agrees on how best to protest its abolition. Staff at Doncaster College told the University and College Union (UCU) congress last month how they had planned to demonstrate with vuvuzelas, the ear- splitting plastic horns that enlivened the last World Cup for tinnitus sufferers.

Sadly, Doncaster College bosses threatened the union executive with suspension if they went through with the protest. For all that FErret supports the EMA and the right to demonstrate, he has a sneaking sympathy for the action taken here. With a talent for cracking down on both vuvuzelas and internal dissent, perhaps Doncaster principal George Trow should be in the frame for next Fifa president?

Curse of the Lib Dems

One big theme among UCU activists was a joyful, unrestrained savaging of the Liberal Democrats.

As might have been suspected by everyone except, one assumes, Nick Clegg and his advisers, the party which went into the last election promising no fees in higher education and came out of it imposing bills of pound;9,000 a year has seen its standing with HE and FE lecturers slide somewhat.

But perhaps no UCU member took things quite as far as Alan Whitaker, outgoing president of Oxford and Cherwell Valley College, who got himself banned from Downing Street during last year's protests for "bad language".

Mr Whitaker admits he may have called the Lib Dems "useless, pathetic shits", but he argues against the ban on academic grounds. "I thought I was just being accurate," he said.

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