13 Oct 2010

Higher education reform – protests live on air

What an experience! I haven’t been “live” in a student union since I was thrown out of university myself. Here we were at Leeds University last night reviewing the state of higher education with a couple of hundred students, academics, and parents when a bunch of revolting students burst in. I suddenly found myself broadcasting whilst confronted by the very people of whom once I was – a revolting student.

What a gulf of time divides us. How spoilt I feel. A huge student grant from the North Riding of Yorkshire and I go and blow it on a student protest against my own university’s investments in apartheid South Africa. In those days there really were people who thought there wasn’t much wrong with apartheid, I suppose there still are today, somewhere. But I had lived in Africa, done VSO in Uganda, and came back suffused with hope and opportunity for that remarkable continent. Hence the idea of separating peoples because of their skin pigment disgusted me.

Now here am I resisting another generation of students equally disgusted by the idea that the state wants to get out of higher education. But um, er, it’s not as simple as that.

Crash, bang – oh dear, what will I do if they invade the stage, grab my microphone, and issue a polemic live on air? (Wouldn’t that breach OFCOM regulations?) But they don’t. The odd rugby tackle, and an exceptionally large bouncer, and I’m still talking.

What contradictory thoughts it stirs. I am recovered. I’m here to report the news, not help them make it.

I take the last direct train home. A pleasurable experience, it’s the train line that belongs to you and me – East Coast. Clean, brightly painted, fast. It feels a lot more rewarding than the banks we own. The staff are personable and attentive. A restorative gin and tonic attracts the barman along the carriage bearing sliced lemon and ice. Not my memory of nationalised rail travel of old. Is there, in some way, a new way of doing state ownership?

We are six in our returning team. An engaging person who produces a theatre troupe – Paper Birds – returning from her AGM in Leeds completes the company on our adjoining tables. She’d settled to write up the minutes on the train. I’m not sure she got a word down as she joined our review of revolution, nationalisation, feminist drama, Twitter, and the state of the world.

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