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Spirit of '18

Just before the dawn of the new academic year, we - academics, students and staff - will join together to reflect on the legacy and potential of the collective action we began in March 2018. Many of us will recall the Volunteer University established to provide 'time', 'space' and 'coffee', so that we, the university, could meet off campus and discuss a range of issues with each other and the wider community.

These included critical discussions relating to higher education policies affecting us today, and also involved a 'pop-up academy' of the Humanities to highlight new ways of thinking about discourses, power and our potential to construct our own futures. Indeed, new forms of interdisciplinarity, community and civic engagement came into view this spring.

Join us Saturday 22 September as we recover this "Spirit of March '18", reclaim this power and work toward establishing the Volunteer University in Exeter and beyond.

I went to the Big Meeting on Monday, 18th July.  It was designed to take forward the momentum from the USS strike pickets and the solidarity generated between academics, students and others and a desire to resist changes in higher education and ‘reclaim the university’.

It was a positive meeting and it was good to see people that I have been following on twitter in the on-going discussion about the USS dispute, and the #wearetheuniversity tweets, and to hear about on-going developments at Goldsmiths, SOAS, Sussex and other places.

Despite the positivism of the meeting I did however leave feeling that there are a number of issues that are dampening the impetus, and was also struck that the examples of change that were discussed generally started before this year – there was little evidence at the meeting of new initiatives, and while I know of a couple from twitter (but am not sure about the history of them) there is not a lot of evidence of the solidarity of the pickets being transferring into new action.

I think the UCU conference issue, which was not mentioned at the meeting, has had a very negative effect.

I was struck by the emphasis in the meeting of the importance of live social networks, both on the pickets and in the examples of change – face to face, small groups of people working together are important.  This was reflected in the meeting which operated very much in that mode.  This is seems to me to be a severe limitation on developments – in an institution like QMUL where there does not seem to be that sort of core group already, and there are impediments of time (everyone is busy) and space (multi-site – no real common spaces used to meet across institutional divides), etc.  There is still a limit to social media activism!  The lack of activity around is indicative of this problem.

There is a big question about whether we should be focussing on a national movement or build locally, the divisiveness of HE can be easily replicated in local groups making progress in reclaiming bit of their institutions – there are even jokes about league tables of democratisation etc.

The live twitter feed covering the event is below.




In case anyone missed the news from the UCU conference this week, here is a summary of the chaos, and the resulting recalling of conference and the formation of a new grouping within the Union. I am sure we will get an update from our delegates when they have recovered, and a branch meeting to discuss it soon.

How can we maintain the conversation about reclaiming and reshaping higher education in the wake of the USS strikes?

This has been a period of extraordinary energy and creativity. So much amazing work has taken place within and across institutions, and been created and shared online. The aim of this meeting is to get together in person, reflect on where we are and make plans for approaching the next academic year with hope, purpose and solidarity.