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 weareqmul.org 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.