182 Views

University challenged

 

As a new generation of students’ arrives at ‘liberal-lefty’ Sussex The Badger asks: are they walking into a bohemian wonderland or an institution mirroring an increasingly conservative education system?

Harry Yeates

 Today, presuming you got your paws on the Badger the day of its release (October 1), marks sixteen years since Tony Blair made his now legendary ‘education’ speech. Addressing his fellow Labor MP’s at a party conference Blair said: “Ask me my three main priorities for government, and I tell you: education, education, education”. For those taking their first steps when Blair was unveiling his master plan, this will be their GCSE year. But soon, just like a Blair promise, GCSEs will be a thing of the past.

Instead, as education secretary Michael Gove recently announced, from 2017 students will sit more ‘rigorous’ end of year exams in the form of the ‘EBacc’ and a qualification which does away with coursework and any subject not deemed ‘academic’ enough.

This means that not only will tomorrow’s teenagers have to deal with all the usual suspects: the acne, the crippling self-doubt and the hormonal imbalances, but they’ll also have the stress of sitting all-or-nothing style exams which favour the academically gifted and shun the artisan and artistically inclined.

However, we do not need to wait five years to start seeing the effects of a more conservative education system, when we can simply take stock of our wonderful Freshers, the first intake of students to part with £9000 per year for the privilege of a higher education.

This new figure is so large it may be hard to put into perspective, but here is a sobering thought: £9000 equates to £300 per university week or a little over £42 per day. Who knows how much you will have spent on your degree in the time it takes you to read this article ? Enough for a copy of the Guardian perhaps, or maybe even a ploughman’s lunch.

However, to the Freshers among you, welcome to Sussex. We are thankful that you’ve joined our undergraduate community, as opposed to bolstering BBC figures which suggest that 50,000 fewer people applied for a university place this year.

No doubt some of you will have taken to the streets to protest the tripling of university fees, and you should know that protesting alongside you were members of your Sussex brethren, defiant and proud. Yet whereas once we rallied, now we are resigned – but what can we do? If we cynically conclude that the government will court but never truly listen to public opinion, we must at least aim to put our own house in order.

Gone are the days when Sussex could stake its claim to being the last defender of a liberal education. After arriving on the scene as the first in a new wave of universities to grace the Swinging Sixties, Sussex soon acquired a reputation for bohemianism – a reputation that has long since endured.

However, a year on from celebrating its fiftieth birthday it often appears to place less emphasis on people growing into free-thinking, well rounded individuals, than it does passing them along a conveyor belt into employment. Certainly with 16-25 year olds reportedly the group worst affected by the recession, no institution should be blamed for trying to equip its students with the skills needed to survive in the world of work.

Indeed it almost makes permissible Sussex’s decision to host seminars on ‘networking’. Yet beyond this function of university remains another: that of delivering a ‘higher education’. Indeed it was to this that novelist and former Oxford don Sir Ken Robinson alluded, when in 2010 he delivered a lecture for ‘Ted talks’ entitled ‘Bring on the learning revolution!’

In his own unique style Robinson said: “The reason so many people are opting out of education is because it does not feed their spirit…we have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education based on linearity and conformity and batching people to a model based more on principles of agriculture; we have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it is an organic process…”

If these words resonate with you then you’re in the right place. It’s the people, not the politics, that define Sussex, and looking around our vibrant campus there remains a student community as dynamic and engaged as ever before.

They embody the ethos captured by our current chancellor, Sanjeev Bhaskar who, when accepting his honorary position in 2009 said: “I am extremely proud to be associated with a radical, transformational university such as Sussex”. However, as a figurehead whose most prominent role (according to the University’s website) is “as the person who confers degrees on students at the summer and winter graduation ceremonies”, Bhaskar is unlikely to safeguard the qualities he prides Sussex on having.

Instead that responsibility resides with vice-chancellor, Michael Farthing, only he has rather different designs on the University’s future.

Given that official figures place mercantile Mike’s earnings at £227,000 per year, it is perhaps unsurprising that he should be thought of as business minded. Nor is it remarkable that he was met with a frosty reception when addressing students at last year’s graduation ceremony.

Among those donning cap and gown in the summer was Geography student Maggie FitzHerbert, who told The Badger how: “The summer graduation speech was a proud recital of just how good Sussex is. He [Farthing] mentioned that the hike in fees hadn’t deterred applications with no word of assurance that the university would keep it at all affordable… He repeatedly referred to Sussex managing to keep on being excellent despite government cuts… also mentioning the success of Northfields (without a word about the forthcoming closure of East Slope)”. This is noteworthy, of course, as East Slope is the cheapest on-campus accommodation and the newly built Northfields is the most expensive.

At least however Farthing’s speech was consistent with the direction Sussex has been heading this last year. Indeed perhaps the writing was on the wall when half-way through the year a giant banner appeared adorning Brighton station, reading: ‘Choose Business’, with the U and S forming the Sussex logo. Never likely to connect with commuting students taking the train into Falmer, the banner took on a greater poignancy amidst revelations first published in the Daily Telegraph back in June. An unlikely alibi in an article mourning a loss of liberalism, it was the Telegraph that named Sussex one of a handful of University’s guilty of offering international students lower grade tariffs than British students, because of the higher tuition fees they paid. Ironically business courses were singled out in the article as being particularly guilty of the practise meaning that students may well choose ‘US’ for their commercial enterprises. The University’s business motives were also made clear in May, when it published a contract notice in the Journal of the European Union inviting tenders to manage its facilities and catering operations on a cost effective and specialist basis, effective from August 2013. Sussex did promise that it would not make any redundancies but was not able to offer any reassurances that their eventual suitors would feel the same way. So with the Telegraph’s revelations, plans to outsource various departments to private firms and the utterings of our honourable vice-chancellor, it is fair to say that our ‘liberal-minded’ University has dealt us a betrayal of Animal Farm sized proportions. It therefore falls to us, the students, to ensure that Sussex becomes a model of education befitting its forward-thinking public image and not merely a profit making organisation.

However, with the new academic year still very much in its embryonic stages, we need not curse our luck for studying at Sussex, but realise the need to preserve what makes it such a special University. It consistently scores highly in student satisfaction polls, is home to Ultimate Frisbee’s UK champions ‘the Mohawks’, and has a student newspaper called The Badger.

Regrettably however, such triumphs pale into insignificance if we forget the ethos which allowed for such happy, frisbee-throwing journalists. Let us for a moment at least consider the possibility that there is nothing intrinsically bohemian about Sussex at all, other than that it attracts the kind of open-minded, kindred spirits for which the university is now famed.

What this means of course is that in actuality management is powerless compared to the students, the people who pay their wages and legitimise the University as a place of learning not earning.

Indeed, as the University recently announced — albeit not quite in this context – for the first time in its history Sussex now has a student population in excess of 13,000, meaning its top brass are more accountable to us than ever.

Freshers, you are a big part of that 13,000 and it is for you to continue that rich Sussex legacy of challenging the status quo. Only now we must internalise our scrutiny, lest we lose the values that built U.S. Nobody is advocating a futile ‘fight the power’, indiscriminately graffiti-ing anarchy logos all over East Slope (which has been tried) – but rather a way that sees you adequately accounted for.

Protests, sit-ins, marches and representation at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) all constitute viable means. Ultimately however, amidst all the fun, friends and frolicking that will constitute your time at Sussex, remember this – it is your university, make it work for you

Get the best viral stories straight into your inbox!

Don't worry, we don't spam

Leave a Reply

Join the Badger Team

Apply today!

Latest Posts

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate
Campus News
929 views1
Campus News
929 views1

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate

Jordan Wright - April 27, 2018

Student society Liberate the Debate’s most recent event was cancelled over a lack of compliance with the Students' Union's (USSU) requirement for a neutral chair - a…

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series
Arts
255 views
Arts
255 views

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - June 17, 2018

Pictured: Zac Black At Proud Cabaret audiences were spellbound as if at night at the circus, yet this was not like Angela Carter’s magical realist novel; Verve…

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review
Arts
268 views
Arts
268 views

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review

Florence Dutton - June 11, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Last Monday at 8pm at Brighton’s The Old Market, I sat myself down in my theatre seat eagerly awaiting…

Fleabag preview
Arts
253 views
Arts
253 views

Fleabag preview

Florence Dutton - June 2, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Following the mass success of the Bafta award-winning BBC Series, DryWrite and Soho Theatre are about to hit the…

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome
Arts
309 views
Arts
309 views

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome

Georgia Grace - June 1, 2018

Having completed my final semester of university with modules on punk history and queer arts, it was fitting that I rounded off my end-of-assessment celebrations by attending…

Arts
319 views

The Tempest review

Georgia Grace - May 30, 2018

As the sun begins to set over Hove Green, tinnies of Red Stripe are cracked open, tartan blankets are strewn, and families tuck into their picnic hampers.…

A Glass Half Empty review
Arts
288 views
Arts
288 views

A Glass Half Empty review

Georgia Grace - May 27, 2018

For those of us coming to the end of another year of university study, the prospect of careers, marriages and babies may seem a long way off.…

DollyWould at The Old Market review
Arts
271 views
Arts
271 views

DollyWould at The Old Market review

Alex Hutson - May 27, 2018

Sh!t Theatre’s DollyWould is a hilarious, thoughtful and experimental performance piece. The award winning show has the Sh!t Theatre duo integrating comedy, storytelling, personal experience and music.…

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex
Campus News
409 views
Campus News
409 views

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex

Billie-Jean Johnson - May 26, 2018

The Sussex branch of the University and College Union (UCU) has launched a petition calling for Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell to end the 'hostile environment' at Sussex. The…

Arts
219 views

Shakespeare in the sun – The Tempest preview

Georgia Grace - May 24, 2018

In a world of dystopian King Lears and female Hamlets, Shakespeare’s classics are constantly being reimagined for the modern day. There’s something oddly refreshing then about the…

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
689 views
Arts
689 views

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 23, 2018

What a phenomenal contrast these two films present when watched side-by-side. In essence, together they are capable of tracing inner and outer metamorphoses of their subjects. The…

Dollywould at The Old Market preview
Arts
281 views
Arts
281 views

Dollywould at The Old Market preview

Alex Hutson - May 22, 2018

From the 22nd May - 25th May 2018 DollyWould will be showing at The Old Market. An exciting new show, presented by Sh!t Theatre, who won the…

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu
Artist Focus
370 views
Artist Focus
370 views

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - May 16, 2018

Last week artist Fedilou made her debut exhibition in the downstairs space of Morelli Zorelli, a quaint vegan Italian restaurant in Hove, featuring a collection of intimate…

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley
Interview
285 views
Interview
285 views

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley

Nikolaos Manesis - May 15, 2018

Ron Chrisley is a Reader in Philosophy, on the faculty of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, and is the director of COGS (Centre for Cognitive Science).…

Adam review
Arts
351 views
Arts
351 views

Adam review

Ketan Jha - May 13, 2018

If you have been a stranger to the stage this spring and decide to see one contemporary show, let it be Adam. This reviewer went in entirely…

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
406 views
Arts
406 views

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 13, 2018

In celebration of iconic Brighton local, legendary alt-rock musician (and episodic actor) Nick Cave, TOM’s Film Club are hosting a double-bill screening of his films at The…

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review
Arts
427 views
Arts
427 views

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review

Georgia Grace - May 11, 2018

Meta-theatricality and interactivity are becoming all the more vogue in contemporary theatre, and in a world where the arts are becoming increasingly open and democratised, I find…

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks
Artist Focus
334 views
Artist Focus
334 views

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks

Alex Leissle - May 9, 2018

  [gallery type="slideshow" ids="35385,35386,35387,35388,35389,35390,35391,35392,35393,35394,35395,35396,35397,35398,35399,35400,35401,35402,35403,35404,35405,35406,35407,35408,35409,35410,35411"]

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival
Books
367 views
Books
367 views

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival

William Singh - May 9, 2018

Afua Hirsch’s 2018 book - part memoir, part polemic - provokes mixed feelings. So too did her discussion of the topic at this year’s Brighton Festival. Don’t…

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality
Science
464 views
Science
464 views

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality

Luke Richards - May 8, 2018

Bioweapons exist, while ethnic-bioweapons are whispered conspiracies. Pandemics can fairly hazardous to human life, the 1918 Flu Pandemic killed 20-50 million people. A man made pandemic could…

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced
News
390 views
News
390 views

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced

Jessica Hubbard - May 4, 2018

Students have voted to support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, reject Prevent and adopt new Gender Equality policies. Results for the Students' Union referenda were…