New vice-chancellor Stuart Croft has been making all of the right noises. After a less than empathetic departure for Nigel Thrift, there was a call amongst many for a much closer relationship between management and the student population. After years of conflict, whether it be with the recent re-branding, disagreements over demonstration on campus or the conflict over TeachHigher and postgraduate pay, it has been a rocky period for all involved.
Nevertheless, as recently as last week, University staff and students stood in solidarity as they chose to condemn the recent green paper on higher education and the Prevent strategy. Regardless of your viewpoint, this is a monumental decision from a Russell Group university of Warwick’s stature and Croft’s policy to have this decision made by academics, and will now go onto the Senate – the supreme academic authority of the University.
This is a monumental decision from a Russell Group university of Warwick’s stature
One of the things that we always forget to mention is how important student demonstration and support is as part of this process. In the Independent article that accompanies the success, whilst incredibly positive and complimentary, does not tell the whole story about how this Assembly vote came into place. Almost a month before this meeting ever took place, Warwick For Free Education, an activist group on campus, occupied University House with the intention of tackling this agenda, amongst its wider aims of discussing the cost of higher education.
Whilst protest and demonstration is an incredibly divisive issue on campus, and has been covered by The Boar in depth, we cannot take away from the fact that peaceful, yet disruptive action in this case was part of the process towards development. To be absolutely clear, I do not for a second believe that direct action is always the right, nor the only option, but it definitely has a part to play in this story that cannot be ignored, and is not covered by the Independent. Nor do I always agree with the actions of WFFE on campus, but in this case I can see why activism is so important.
Peaceful, yet disruptive action in this case was part of the process towards development
The resulting working group meetings that came from this action were attended by myself, as well as a number of activists and most importantly, Croft himself. Prevent is unashamedly an ugly and regressive doctrine that implicitly targets a number of students from minority and predominantly Muslim backgrounds, but it is required by law to be enacted in universities. In truth, it was a positive meeting, but as with a lot of working group discussions, there were very few resolutions.
What was more unsettling was that much of the room was not of a Muslim or BAME background, and whilst this seems crass, I think it is important to start engaging those communities that are going to be most effective. What was even more unsettling was the Student Union apparently refused to attend a meeting on the strategy with the university, because of its “zero tolerance policy on compliance” – the jury is still out on that one.
I think it is important to start engaging those communities that are going to be most effective
What doesn’t come across in the success story of this campaign so far, is that as much as the staff and senior management were important in the final decision making process, students were very much at the centre of it. Academics have been a huge support, but there has been great work done by Safrina Ahmed from the Globalist, Luke Pilot and Charlie Hindhaugh in the Students’ Union and by ourselves in our own commentary on the green paper.
It shows in no uncertain terms that when passionate, motivated students work together, there is the possibility to enact real change. It is sometimes easy to criticise those that make noise on campus, and in some cases that is completely justified, but it is important to remember what is happening behind the scenes.
When passionate, motivated students work together, there is the possibility to enact real change
There is still a long way to go in challenging policies like this at a national level, but I am happy that the working relationship between student and staff is moving in the right direction – Croft can take some credit for that. We must remember, in light of all of the successes in recent weeks that this only happens hand-in-hand with collaboration amongst different groups.
I may not be the biggest advocate or supporter of student activism, but I can recognise that in this case, peaceful protest was a welcome addition to the arsenal of those looking to tackle these horrific policies. Staff have worked tirelessly to support and lobby officials higher up in the food chain. Senior management have thoughtfully listened, and it seems positive going into the final Senate decision.
This [success] only happens hand-in-hand with collaboration amongst different groups
When all of the cogs fall into place, Warwick can be an inimitable place for change – let’s hope this is the start of a much more successful, collaborative partnership.