Student Protests – Are they still on the map?

Do you, as students, take part in any kind of protest? Do you think it makes a difference? How do you see change occuring? What are the major issues that would cause you to get out of your seat and protest?

Passion (student protest) - photo by lewishamdreamer

Today on the Guardian’s Mortarboard Blog, the NUS president, Gemma Tumelty, discusses how students are more politically savvy than ever. While some people believe students are ignoring issues, Tumelty believes that political stands are now taken over “individual issues according to their conscience, rather than falling back on blind partisanship”. I agree that individual issues play a much higher part than concerns of the past, but I don’t think this is as positive as Tumelty does.

And it’s unfair to refer to ‘blind partisanship’, because it suggests an unimaginative coming together just for the sake of it. I think there are simply more causes thrown at us, resulting in a dilution of what matters and what we can cope with. There are only so many hours in the day…

It’s hard to publicise anything as the biggest deal now. People want to judge what’s important for themselves.

So with each year that goes by, a growing number of concerns compete for our attention. University has long been a place where anything is possible, but this overload of possibilities doesn’t allow large scale political protest to take place effectively.

Tumelty does end her piece by suggesting that students still protest in large numbers, but that the protests go beyond students and are attended/used/run by people from all walks of life.

To my mind, this further highlights the dilution within culture. With university taking on greater numbers of 18+ year olds, it’s no wonder that they are no longer the specific group of yesteryear, but a blending part of society that takes a place with all adults in the UK.

It wasn’t that many years ago when student protests over loans and fees were a big deal. Yet it didn’t make the difference hoped by many, and some commentators at the time said it was a huge blow to the effectiveness of student protest. Still, I must admit, such an important topic didn’t stir the emotions of as many people as it should have done. I was there and a lot of students treated it more as an annoyance than as something worthy of protest.  Luckily, there were still plenty who did want to be heard, especially after students felt the government had backtracked on promises that had been given.  Nevertheless, positive results were not particularly forthcoming.

Student Protest - photo by Mr. Babyman

When I was at uni, a large group of us living in halls were involved in a payment dispute that caused a deal of upset. I tried to get a protest going and was in discussion with staff as high up as the Pro-Vice-Chancellors. Despite the clear problem that needed addressing, everyone gave up on the problem after the initial effort was unsuccessful.  I ended up being the ONLY person who wanted to stand up to what was right.

If being upset and losing money are not enough to rile everyone into action, what on earth is!?

I singularly took things as far as getting an admission that things could have been dealt with better, as well as an apology for any upset caused. At this point, nothing had been offered to me, but I was in a good position to demand further action.  So did I?

No, I didn’t.

You see, I loved my uni and I felt that I’d made my point. They had respected me and taken me seriously, which was great.  You might think I was mad to get as far as that, just to draw a line under the whole thing at the last minute.  But it wasn’t of interest to the rest of the students any more.

I had got what I wanted and there was nobody else left with an active complaint.  If we’d all pulled together in protest, we would have felt a strong reason to carry on. But that didn’t happen.

So what exactly is student protest now? Is it protesting about something whilst happening to be a student? Can it involve a single student, a handful of them, or all the students in the land?  Does my experience belong to ‘student protest’?  Do the words ‘student protest’ matter any more if the issues regularly involve society as a whole?

Tumelty refers to the recent Facebook campaign that led to HSBC reversing its decision to charge graduates interest on their overdrafts. But becoming a member of a Facebook group isn’t difficult and doesn’t mean the members necessarily even had an account with HSBC. While I don’t believe the protest led to ‘blind partisanship’, I don’t think it’s sufficient comparison to a hard-hitting student protest of grand proportions. Yes, the students won in the end, which is great news. It also led to major news coverage. But I’m still left pondering over what ‘student protest’ is.

What would you define as ‘student protest‘?

student_protests_in_berlin (photo by holger)