Monday, 8 December 2008

Persecuting Students

As I travel around the South of England and elsewhere in the UK I pick up odd local leaflets and I came across one this week which fitted in with attitudes I have been picking up in a number of towns. I noticed it a couple of years ago in Southampton when the council started complaining about the number of streets that had students living in them. With 36,000 students in total at the city's two universities with in a total population of 217,000 people in the city at the last census in 2001, it is not surprising that students are prominent. University student numbers have rocketed since the 1990s with the government aiming to have 50% of 18 year olds in nay year attending university. There are currently 800,000 people who are 18 this year, which means the objective is 400,000 university students each year. Given that most undergraduate courses last 3 years, that means potentially 1.2 million students just doing undergraduate degrees at one time. This level is being reached with 451,000 students starting undergraduate courses in 2008 plus 13,000 student nurses, though of the total number of undergraduate students from outside the EU was 240,000 so possibly 50-60,000 new non-EU students each year as many of them go on to postgraduate courses or research. Anyway, we have hundreds of thousands of students in the UK and the level is likely to increase. After a small dip in 2006-7 recruitment has picked up again. The government policy is to encourage and sustain such levels.

Of course the population in towns seem to want anything different. The only city I have visited that seemed to like the money students bring in is Portsmouth which reckoned their parents visiting alone broung £26 million to the city which only has one university with 19,000 students of whom 3,000 are from overseas. It seems to every other town I visit students are loathed and are seen as mucking up the supposed local community feel of towns. Of course, in fact through stimulating hatred they create a negative integration of the community which ranks up against them. This was clearly expressed in the leaflet I saw. It did not ask if you had 'student problems' it simply stated that you did in this area and that they were reducing the value of your property. It then gave a whole long list of people to telephone in order to harrass students, though it whined that the police were pretty powerless. Clearly the author of the leaflet who gives his name sees all students as bad and needing constant harrassment.

I accept that there are noisy students, but they are the minority. There are also very noisy families, noisy elderly people, noisy single working men and women. Interestingly a lot of the problems the leaflets says are cause by students are: wheely bins on the pavement, overgrown hedges, cars on the pavement and 'To Let' signs are actually problems caused by all sorts of people. Many students do not have cars and in most of the streets I drive down the bulk of vehicles parked on the pavement are company vans and 4 x 4s driven by wealthy men and women, not students. Wheely bins get pulled on to the pavement by dustbin men not the public so in any street you will find them all on the pavement at any one time. Overgrown hedges and 'To Let' signs are not things that students control, these are the responsibility of the landlords/letting agents, who I feel are actually responsible for much of the bad problems in towns by not tending to the properties they rent out and constantly moving people on. When you are being hounded by a landlord you have no pride in the place where you live. In my street eight houses almost in a row, have been emptied even though the tenants have only been there four months, because the letting agency went bankrupt and the properties have been taken over by someone else.

As with all groups in a community there are always some people who cause problems, but students are not over-represented in this group. Should we throw out every family with young children because the children on one family run around stealing things, breaking windows and so on? No, because the other ninety families in the street are fine. What are these anti-student protestors seeking? All students purged from a town? Young people to behave like middle-aged people? They have no rational plan, they simply want to get angry and to turn their hatred and prejudice against someone. People have come down on assaults (verbal and physical) on asylum seekers and immigrants so these angry bigoted people have sought out a new target and see students as an easy one. Within increasing numbers of students coming from abroad it allows racial prejudice to come in through the back door too.

Ironically seeing university students as 'outsiders' is increasingly wrong. A lot of this is due to the cost of study. In Scotland 60% of students go to their local university, in England it is over 33% and on average all students now are likely to travel only 28 miles (45 Km) to attend university if they are from working class background and 63 miles (101 Km) if they come from middle class background. Thus most of the UK students studying at a university these days will come from the same town as the university or the surrounding county (of course not all towns have universities and some have two which will have an impact, by definition though people have to leave rural areas and small towns if they want to go to university, they cannot attend their 'local' one). More university students than ever before live with their parents while they are studying. Half of students have to do paid work to pay for basic living expenses and most students do as much paid work as they do study, adding up to 31-40 hours per week for these things combined. So, in fact, the student of 2008, does not resemble students of 'The Young Ones' (1982), they work a lot and they tend to study in the town where they live or the nearest urban area to their parental home. Students make up a great deal of staff across the service sector from health care and especially care for the elderly, to working in your local pub or shop, without their cheap labour a lot of these places would close down (check out how many students are working in your average high street, they cannot all be replaced by immigrants).

So, persecution of students is as bad as prejudice against any group in society. It is simply being used by ignorant, brutal men and women to let their anger out at something rather really trying to improve themselves rather than looking around trying to find a new target. A lot of the 'student problem' is in fact the more pervasive 'landlord problem' and I see no-one sending out leaflets about their nasty behaviour.


Alex B said...

I don't know what town you are talking about here but I found a leaflet of the type you've written about doing the rounds in Winton in Bournemouth which is close to the university there. It came from Winton Forum which just seems to be a front for some guy called Anson Westbrook (handy he gives his number on the leaflet 01202 778086 if you want to talk to him straight). He seems to blame every problem in the area on students. I wrote to this Winton Forum and said that the likely next steps for them to take would be to put red crosses on student houses (like they did on houses during the plague) put yellow stars on students (like the Nazis did to Jews) for easy identification and then make student ghettos with fences round them (ditto the Nazis and the Jews). This Winton Forum does not seem to understand their kind of policy is like the first steps on the 'twisted path' that leads to segregation, apartheid and that kind of thing depending on what example from history you want to point at. By the way I am not a student, I am a worker, I just hate bigots.

Rooksmoor said...

Alex, I agree with your sentiments, these people seem to be oblivious to the rocky path they seem so eager to go down. Given the increasing support for the BNP, may be they are aware. However, perhaps those people supporting specific campaigns like these things against students, are aware of the broader thrust of such groups. Initially I thought it can hardly be a 'front' if he provides his name, but I then thought you meant this forum's focus concealed wider objectives or people are being carried along.

I always warn people about drawing historical parallels. I assume you wrote to this group in a satirical way. Generally people tend to miss this especially as they often do not even know the history they have lived through. I remember an elderly woman at a railway station who had lived through the Second World War telling me the UK needed more history teachers to 'teach the children how we beat the Europeans' with no distinction between Germans, Italians, French, Russians, etc. let alone Nazis, Fascists, Communists within those countries.

The other warning example is of Warren Mitchell's (born 1926)character of an East End bigot, Alf Garnett. Mitchell is a left-winger, a Jew, and certainly has liberal views. His Garnett character in the 1960s-80s was supposed to ridicule the bigots of East London but ended up turning into a character that those very people admired.

Sometimes direct criticism is necessary, though I recognise that it can lead to people pulling the shutters down if you say, 'well your policies are beginning to be like those of the Nazis'.

With the economic crisis at present, this is the time when people get scared and started turning to discrimination as a way to apportion the blame and find easy scapegoats rather than the 'faceless' individuals who have actually inflicted this situation on us through their greed. So we have to be vigilant and challenge such discrimination when it appears.

Rooksmoor said...

Talking of Bournemouth, I was walking in the town this summer and I was passed by a woman in her late middle age who said quite loudly, 'this town failed the moment they opened that university'. She clearly saw urban decline as a direct consequence of higher education.

Bournemouth's Dorset Institue of Higher Education opened in 1976, based on an earlier college of technology. It became a polytechnic in 1990 and a university in 1992. It was rated the best 'new' university in 2009 and 2010, so I am not clear when she really saw the decline as coming.

I was tempted to chip in and point out that the former Arts Institute has now turned into a university college and is aiming to become a full university meaning the town will then have two. By then I imagine she would have fled.