If you have not read my last post about the University of the Future, I recommend that you do so before reading this as it works as a follow on post now that the strikes are over. It can be found here. This post is less essay-style, and a bit more diary-entry, but I wanted to catalogue the day and the effect I hope it will have.
On Friday, 16th March (yesterday as I write), the first wave of strike action taken by University staff to protect their pensions ended. And, while the strike action may be over for the next few weeks at least, the spirit and the fight are certainly not over. Our university was one of the universities across the country to have an occupation, which lasted for a total of 11 days. We ended the occupation in style, having a mini-concert outside the occupation featuring student bands and a celebrity headliner. Seeing the students pouring out the building to greet their friends and fellow occupiers (students were allowed to swap in and out), cheering and singing was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had at university. I always look out for moments of genuine human connection between strangers, and I felt that, standing in a crowd of 100 students, most of whom I’d never spoken to. We were all there, in the rain, to listen to music, and to support the same cause.
Rejoining my lecturers at the picket line was another special moment of the day. Over the past four weeks we’ve been seeing one another on the picket lines almost every day, but yesterday felt more like we had achieved something, even if no changes to the proposal have been agreed upon. Everyone was cheering and clapping and singing, and the occupiers were taking centre-stage, playing instruments as they marched down the road to join the pickets. The march that ensued to the city was equally uplifting and exciting to be a part of. I later heard that it was estimated that 330 people participated in the march, staff and students alike.
The final official part of the day I participated in was the rally at a local arts venue. We stood outside in the rain listening to a series of speakers thank us for our parts in the strikes and request that we keep the energy going. There was more songs, more cheering, more applause, more solidarity. We said goodbye to the people we knew, thanked them for organising and participating, and received thanks in return.
After consuming my first ever veggie burger, buying way too many calories worth of fudge and perusing the poetry section of Waterstones, we bumped into a group of students we knew from the rallies, who invited us to join them for a drink. Over drinks and the first hot meal a lot of the occupiers had consumed in 11 days, we sat and talked about the strikes, about the future, about what we can do.
So what can we do?
Remember what we’ve learnt, for a start. Remove the barrier between students and staff to create a more communal learning environment. Think of the lecturers as people, not as someone merely providing us with a service for which we have paid. Keep talking about the issues with higher education, and keep pushing for change. Stand up for what we believe in, and don’t take losses. Don’t accept our position as a customer of the university. Fight for a more accessible higher education, a more sustainable higher education. Be prepared to do this all over again, if we have to.