Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Support your student activists

While the SU of my institution is a craven and frail beast, other students are working hard to make sure that this government's attack on education as a public good isn't forgotten: Cambridge students forced David Willetts (who earlier this week encouraged discount institutions to start up in old office blocks, while admitting that he wouldn't want his kids to attend them) to abandon a speech, then occupied the building, and Birmingham University students have set up an alternative university in an occupied building (follow their exploits here).

You might question the tactics, especially given the UK's overwhelmingly rightwing media, but I think they should be encouraged. In the 1960s, students across the world, even the UK, occupied their centres of learning to demand that universities stopped being mouthpieces of hegemony, and started critiquing the status quo. I don't think our current crop of protesters are as engaged with theory: Marcuse, Laing and Gramsci aren't on anyone's lips now, sadly - but their aims are laudable. Take the banking crash: virtually no academic economists predicted it. Instead, influential academics operated as paid consultants and board members, producing the analytical work which promised everything would be all right. Only people outside the magic circle pointed out that the Emperor was dipping his dangly bits in our soup. It's time universities led opinion, not bowed to the fashionable orthodoxies.

Despite this afternoon's media students not knowing about the Leveson inquiry, or how the press operates, the vast majority are intellectually curious and idealistic. We shouldn't stamp on this, but encourage it. I'm on strike next week, because the space I use to examine cultural nostrums is being eroded. The students' struggle is just as valid. They aren't greedily demanding special privileges - they're demanding that we all recognise the liberatory potential of education and its benefits for all.

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