My first introduction to student life was The Young Ones.
Aged twelve, I learned that students were lazy, pseudo-leftist hippies who did their laundry once a year. I went on to read Terry Pratchett and his satire convinced me that student life was an endless round of drinking, avoiding lectures and being snugly shielded from reality for three years.
As it happens, I became a student at a time when the cosy stereotypes of student living are being rocked to their foundations. We are living in interesting times.
…students are uniquely positioned in society…
We’ve often been portrayed by media as something of a joke. We forget that students are uniquely positioned in society: we are armed with knowledge, skepticism, spare time, and the willingness to change things. More to the point, there are a lot of us, we’re unhappy and we’re not going to shut up about it.
Many London students are paying extortionate rents for run-down accommodation. We are directly impacted by high rents, raised tuition fees, lack of university funding, and inflated living costs. Many graduates end up moving back home, in debt and unable to find work. People applying for university are asking themselves “What’s the point?”
…Many working adults are struggling to live within a capitalist system that eats up their money and time…
In May 2013 it was announced that the University of London Union will be disbanded. With this decision, students in London lose their platform to campaign en masse. Want representation? Too bad; no students were allowed to sit on the review that suggested closing ULU. And in November, ULU president Michael Chessum was arrested after organising a demonstration against the ULU closure in Central London. In a recent Guardian piece, Cambridge student Rachel Young wrote about the police’s attempt to recruit spies in her university to report back on activist groups. Young wrote that “we are experiencing the intensification of attempts by police, university management and the government to criminalise and suppress dissent in universities.”
The simple truth is, being a student, especially in a politically active university, is a springboard for action. Many working adults are struggling to live within a capitalist system that eats up their money and time, leaving them with little time to engage with social change. Students have the time and energy to assess the world around us and arm ourselves with knowledge. Yes, online activism makes a valuable contribution to our knowledge of social justice and spread of information — but never underestimate university as a platform. Students are surrounded by dialectic and able to organise protests and debates at short notice. The October revolution in Russia, the Spartacist Uprising, May 1968 — all these events were spearheaded by students. We can change the world.
…freedom of speech is not a privilege but a right…
In defence of the tuition fee raise, we were told that higher education is a privilege. In light of that and current events, it’s worth pointing out that freedom of speech is not a privilege but a right. As students, as adults who chose to dedicate years of our lives to study, we should be listened to. And our status in society is always worth defending.