Of course universities should be political. Barely a week goes by without a rally, demonstration, protest or petition taking place on campus. Whether it was staff striking in opposition to insecure wages, students holding a rally against the Indian government or Warwick Occupy, protest and dissent are an intrinsic part of campus life. They are also incredibly political acts. Students are choosing to make a stand against forms of social injustice by disagreeing with governments and social ideas.
That is exactly what university should be about. The years people spend here are the perfect time for shaping a political outlook and one’s view of the world. With all the different opportunities: lectures, seminars, societies, general elections, it’s impossible to remain completely separated from the political affairs around the world. As seen during last month’s election, there was an incredible amount of time, thought and interest devoted to the local parliamentary candidates and what they stood for.
The years people spend here are the perfect time for shaping a political outlook and one’s view of the world
Politics, however, is about far more than Westminster. It is a battle of ideas as we determine the best way to shape the world. At the heart of the university is research: academic freedom researching to further the pursuit of knowledge, question existing orthodoxes and enhance our understanding why the world operates in a particular way. It is therefore impossible for universities to remain apolitical. The political agenda is all about this – deciding on the best way for people, the relationship between the state and the individual and, most importantly, giving everyone a say on the matter.
It wouldn’t be desirable for universities to be apolitical either. University should be about having an open mind to different ideas. At school and sixth form college, you’re likely to have been surrounded by fairly similar people from the same local area. University transforms that – and all for the better! People from around the world with totally different social backgrounds arrive together on campus with, inevitably, different perspectives on the world. It would be impossible and undesirable for everyone to think the same.
University should be about having an open mind to different ideas
This must allow for healthy, open debate. A vital part of democratic politics at least is the freedom to disagree, to hold dissenting views without fear for any consequence. This must be the case at universities. For true political and social freedom, individuals must be able to think and say whatever they wish. A debate can then take place – the battle of ideas that defines a university. Different views are only reflective of the real world outside the ‘Warwick Bubble’, where individuals will rightly have competing visions for the future. Politics, again, is about far more than just the House of Commons. So many political acts take place outside of Parliament, indeed, some would argue everything we do is somewhat political.
This is why protest must also be celebrated. Whether by signing a petition, joining a political organisation or going on a march, people are engaging politically and ensuring their voice can be heard. Throughout history, from the Suffragettes to the Civil Rights Movement, the Peterloo Massacre to the Tolpuddle Martyrs, political change has been achieved by individuals taking a stand against the established political order. The formative years at university are the perfect place to start recognising political’s view on the world and, importantly, how to change it.
The freedom to engage in political matters, while trying to convince others of your view, ensures simplistic echo chambers don’t exist
Of course, if universities couldn’t be political, a number of societies would no longer exist. The party political societies play an important role in representing their respective national parties on a university level. Societies campaigning against social injustice celebrate all the advancements made while recognising changes that are still required. Societies related to each country will rightly discuss the political affairs of that nation, which is exactly how it should be. Indeed, the very existence of the Student Union rightly ensures the voices of students are heard on a national level.
Students are shaped by political events. Whether it’s paying tuition fees, receiving an academic education, relying on good transport connections, entering the house market, looking for employment, helping small businesses or working in the local area, our lives are shaped by political actions. For these to disappear at the university boundaries would be to deny the impact – good and bad – politics has on us all. The freedom to engage in political matters, while trying to convince others of your view, ensures simplistic echo chambers don’t exist. Universities must defend political and academic freedom, protest and discussion. These rights must be cherished, for they define what it means to live in a liberal democratic society.