Posts Tagged ‘protest’

Do you support the current occupation of the University Combination Room?

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

The Peterhouse JCR is currently holding a vote on the current occupation of the University Combination Room by students of the University.

In the process of deciding how to vote on that issue I should consider the demands that the occupiers are making and so that follows.

1. That the University completely oppose the increase in fees, fight against it and fight against all cuts to education, and use its influence to oppose the spending review’s threat to education, welfare, health, and other public services.

I think that the issue here is that it is not sufficient to simply oppose increases in fees it is necessary to coherently explain an alternative solution. Now the University does have influence but it is not an overt one – it is a behind the scenes one and so while I expect that the University is working behind the scenes to do what is best for the University and for Universities in general it probably won’t tell us when and how because diplomacy of that sort doesn’t work like that. With the latter points on welfare, health and other public services – the University is not a political entity. Its purpose is education and research not political change. Members of the University should indeed be encouraged to campaign for things which they believe in and to make their voices heard in government but that does not mean that the University itself can express one particular view and support it.

2. That the University use its influence to fight for free education for all.

There are principles here which I agree with but I think this statement too general in that it includes things I would disagree with. For example if students have parents who clearly can and will pay for their children’s university education then they probably should as this means more money available for those who can’t. (I am in the category of people who’s parents could and indeed do pay). Also if this ‘education’ doesn’t involve actually spending >40 hours a week working on said education (during term) then it is rather pointless and should probably not be paid for in full by the government as it it probably counts as an extended holiday. [1]

3. That the University acknowledge and take steps to combat the systemic inequality of access to this elitist institution and the danger of its intensification posed by the scrapping of EMA, a rise in tuition fees and removal of programs such as Aim Higher.

Here I worry as to the definition of elitist being used. Certainly Cambridge only accepts students with the best academic ability and so discriminates on the basis of academic merit and that is what it should do. However I fear that the definition being used here relates to discrimination on the basis of background. Cambridge does not do that. Cambridge is not elitist under that definition. It once was but it is no longer – we have moved on and so I don’t think that Cambridge could now acknowledge that it is an ‘elitist institution’ because that would be a lie. Yes Cambridge is greatly concerned to ensure that no financial hardship prevents or hinders students from studying at Cambridge but anyone at Cambridge knows that it is exemplary in doing so and provides bursaries and financial support better than that available anywhere else. I am confident that the University will maintain these bursaries and other financial support at whatever level is necessary. Hence I think this point is rather pointless in that it asks the University to admit a line and to do what it is already doing.

4. That the University declare it will never privatise.

This is a rather odd point. Yes I can see that there would be large issues which would need to be addressed before the University could privatise (in particular relating to access and funding) but it would be foolish to for the University to state that at no point in the life of the University will it privatise. In the hundreds of years of history which may yet lie in the future of this University circumstances may change such that privatising is the right thing to do. For a large proportion of its past the University was private and outside (at least to an extent) of the influence of government there are many things that the University has gained through being funded by the government but we can’t be sure that all future governments will not try and do something which would be detrimental to the University to the extent that the University was forced to privatise to avoid it.

5. That the University commit to ensure the autonomy of education from corporate interests.

What this means is not well defined. Yes education should not be commercialised – it is of intrinsic value to society quite apart from its standard economic impacts. However not all influence from all companies is necessarily bad just as not all influence from governments is necessarily good. Both can be both good and bad at different times and on different areas and it would be naive to exclude companies from all influence for all time. Yes they should never be allowed to run the University or its courses but they may at times be able to provide things of value and so can’t be ignored completely.

6. That the University recognise UCU (University & College Union). We urge post-graduates, academics and all university staff to unionise.

This seems rather irrelevant to the issue at hand. Yes unions have value and can serve a useful purpose however since the University is (or at least should be) run by the academics in a perfect world there would be no need for them to unionise as they are their own managers. My main concern with this point is that it is offtopic and to an extent partisan – unfortunately not all students like unions and hence making one of the points involve unions is not going to increase support. As far as I know the UCU has been fairly sensible and if I were at some point to be eligible for membership I would probably join. However some unions have done eminently stupid things at various points including the recent past which has unfortunately tarred all unions.

7. That the University ensure that no students who take part in any form of peaceful protest will face disciplinary action.

Here I agree save for that stipulation that I define peaceful to also include not causing damage to property as well as people. Should people commit criminal offences[0] while protesting then they will of course remain liable for the consequences of their actions.

8. That the University urge Gonville and Caius College to open their library, and allow Caius Students full access. (mission accomplished)

Of course I agree with this – I think the Caius rather silly to have closed it in the first place yes the conservative offices were rather badly damaged but Cambridge students are not in that kind a of a rage with Caius or the Caius library and suitable access controls could have been placed on it to prevent anything bad from occurring.

So in conclusion while agree with some of the demands raised and with the right of students to peaceful protest and consider that it is a good thing that they are doing this protest (and would indeed stand in front of tanks that they retain this right) I disagree with a sufficient number of their demands sufficiently strongly that I can’t support this protest. If they were occupying the local Conservative or Lib Dem headquarters then I would come visit, bring cake and ask what their proposals are for an alternative mechanism for funding University properly. (Clearly what we are being given is suboptimal but it is not sufficient to criticise it is also necessary to present an alternative).

[0]: Here I would also specify further that the laws under which these offences are committed are also good laws we have had quite a few rather bad ones in recent years. In the eyes of the law this is of course irrelevant but to my eyes it matters a lot.
[1]: If it doesn’t take three years of working really really hard then it is not a degree and should not be treated as such – instead it should be compressed into a shorter period of time such that that time is spent working really really hard and then it should be called a Diploma and offered by polytechnics – but I digress.