‘Whose University?’ have got it all wrong

The ‘WU?’ Campaign is just entitled, brattish foot-stamping, says FRANCESCA RYCRAFT-MOORE

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The Whose University? (WU?) movement has been gathering speed. It seems like every student with any grievance against the University is jumping on the bandwagon.

It’s supposed to be a serious campaign, but some of the ‘testimonials’ majorly undermine that. One of them, for instance, is about a student feeling intimidated because a dinner was being held for rugby captains.

Nasty old porters

Some raise very serious issues, but the movement as a whole comes across as brattish foot-stamping by students who just want to get their own way. Yes, student welfare is important. Yes, it should be a priority. But students shouldn’t expect to be able to control the university and the way it strikes a balance between its commitments.

Out of the testimonials that reveal genuinely poor treatment, most seem to show administrative incompetence rather than colleges deliberately riding roughshod over the students’ best interests. A campaign like WU? will inevitably attract the dissatisfied – but how many others don’t write in because they were actually treated decently?

Is life at Cambridge really as bad as WU claims?

Do not think for one minute that I am an “advantaged” student with the luxury of analysing welfare issues as an outsider, because the opposite is true. I’m in my fourth year at Churchill College and the list of my problems and needs is long enough to try the patience of a saint, yet my college has handled them perfectly.

Despite conference commitments and room bookings, I’ve been allowed to continually change my going down dates because my dad, who works in the RAF, can’t always commit to picking me up on a specified day. I have been permitted to work part-time to finance my degree, keep a car on-site, have special exam conditions due to my disability, and remain living in college accommodation both during my year of intermission and vacation periods. I was even offered employment at College during those holidays. I’m using these examples because similar situations have been mentioned in the WU? forum when students have felt they weren’t handled well.

I’ve also got friends at other colleges whose welfare needs were similarly met. If you have a problem, your colleges will help you. They have to; they have a duty of care. But they can’t second-guess your needs. It’s a two-way street. In my experience, if you keep them in the loop and make them aware of the situation, they’ll do their best to mitigate it.

‘WU’ proponent Adam Robertson says there is ‘no room’ for Cambridge students to be ‘human beings with human needs’…

One contributor suggested that students shouldn’t have to reveal the details of their problems to their tutors in order to get special treatment. This is utterly ridiculous and unrealistic. How are they supposed to help you or to prioritise resources? Believe it or not, the colleges have their students’ best interests at heart, and hosting conferences is not incompatible with that aim. To quote my Head Tutor: “Why do you think we do conferences? So that we can afford better provision for students!”

Adam Robertson, the self-proclaimed Marxist and teacher trainee, says this is just an excuse. In his article for ‘Open Democracy’ he claims the real motive behind such conference commitments is a self-serving desire to make as much money as possible. Robertson presents to us an image of the colleges as greedy, self-serving tyrants who “covet” their steady stream of revenue. This is totally unfounded.

There is no evidence that any of the staff are taking home excessive amounts of money in wages, yet plenty of evidence that revenue is going back into colleges and helps to fund the students and any provision for their welfare. Falsely portraying the colleges which are just trying to make ends meet is tantamount to throwing their efforts back in their faces – it’s selfish, and it’s childish.

Conferences are our bread and butter – let’s not forget it

Let’s face it, Cambridge already nannies its students enough. We’re not allowed to have jobs, we’re not given proper kitchen facilities because we mustn’t waste precious time cooking, we’re not allowed to live outside of a limited zone and most accommodation doesn’t include a common room where we can just chill with friends, because heaven forbid that we get distracted from our work.

With all this excessive hand-holding, it’s not surprising that students feel entitled to be wrapped in cotton wool. But the real world isn’t like that, and colleges have a lot of plates to keep spinning.The isolated failures illustrated by the WU? testimonials must not detract from the fact that colleges usually keep those plates spinning very successfully.

In response to the all-important question, “whose university is it?” I would say: everyone’s. Learn to share.