Student section writer
Alex is currently studying for a Masters of Law at Birkbeck, University of London. During his time as a student, he has been widely involved in both student politics and activism within the Green Party; he has been involved with campaigns against university service centralisation and the prevent agenda. His academic main interest is the interaction of legal theory and minority rights.
(10.04.18) – Reflections from the Picket Line
During the UCU strike over the proposed cuts to the USS pension scheme, I was on the picket line almost every day, rising early to join colleagues all over the country in standing outside university buildings and telling those who tried to enter what we were fighting for. Often, the media attempts to portray strikers as lazy, suggesting that they simply cannot be bothered to do their jobs. Other times strikers are represented as greedy, suggesting that they are already doing far better than the rest of the country and now they want more. I want to offer another perspective – direct from the picket line – charting how being on strike has strengthened my relationships with colleagues, raised morale among staff and made me a better teacher.
(22.02.18) – Why I Am Striking
As a Graduate Teaching Fellow, I hold a position that straddles the roles of student and staff, giving me a slightly unusual perspective on the UCU strike action that begins today. It is from this conflicted, complex and, at times like these, compromised position that I wish to lay out why I will be standing with colleagues from 61 other institutions around the country in joining the strike action.
(21.12.17) – 40%
I’m sure you’ve all heard it at least once. ‘40% is all I need. It’s first year, it doesn’t really count for anything.’ It’s obvious, right? If the year doesn’t count towards your final degree classification, then you don’t really need to try. Right?
(5.12.17) – Higher Education’s Expansion Problem
The number of students starting at UK universities has increased dramatically in recent years, despite a slight fall recorded this year, and is set to go on increasing as universities increase their intake. The government has heralded this as an example of the increasing availability of higher education to students coming from working class communities. However, we have to ask what impact the increase in student numbers is having on the quality of education provided by universities.
(9.11.17) – Weekends Matter – Work-Life Balance In Academia
From the outside, it may appear that students and academics have pretty comfortable lives. We can largely work how and when we want. I frequently lie in past 10am and often come back home after just a 6-hour working day. But despite appearances, this doesn’t mean that we have it super easy. As I am finding more and more, maintaining a good work-life balance can be a real struggle – a struggle that academics and students around the world are all too familiar with.
(24.10.17) – No, You’re Not A Fraud – Imposter Syndrome In HE
Recently I’ve started teaching as part of my PhD, and through doing so I‘ve been learning a few things myself. The most striking thing I have noticed is how skewed and extreme expectations are for people in various academic roles. Why do we assume that a lecturer in any given subject should know everything there is to know about that subject off the top of their head?
(14.09.17) – Solidarity with International Students
Not too long ago, a series of news stories began emerging. These stories documented the fact that the government’s estimates for the number of international students who outstay their visas were greatly exaggerated. Despite this, the government has continued to push two convictions. Firstly, that it is appropriate for international students to be included within wider immigration figures, and secondly, that immigration is too high and needs to be cut. These dual premises are having a hugely detrimental impact on the experience of international students, so it is important that other students do all we can to show solidarity with our fellow students and push for changes to this policy.
(04.08.17) – 50 Years – How Far Have We Really Come?
CW: mentions homophobia and homophobic abuse
Last week marked 50 years since the Sexual Offences Act 1967 entered into law, in the first step towards the decriminalisation of homosexuality. There’s been a great deal of coverage of this milestone in British media, including some brilliant, informative TV programming (I highly recommend the BBC’s drama ‘Against the Law’). But it is Owen Jones’s recent Guardian column ‘Hatred of LGBTQ people still infects society. It’s no time to celebrate’ that seems to have been most prominent. Jones’ arguments are certainly justified, but commentary like his risks misrepresenting the situation that now faces LGBT+ people in this country. It’s not all bad.
(18.07.17) – Shaking Up Higher Ed – TEF’s Silver Lining
Late last month, we saw the release of the first batch of Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) results. The TEF has been the subject of significant student opposition, with a Save the Student survey suggesting that as many as 76% of students oppose the implementation of the TEF. I was an opponent of it myself, particularly of links made between TEF scores and the ability of institutions to raise their tuition fees, though this plan has been postponed until 2020.
There is a severe dissonance between the conception of higher education that the Conservatives purport to support and the policies presented in their 2017 manifesto. In order to show this I have to work from within the Tory understanding of the purpose of higher education, and the role international students play within achieving that. Despite my adoption of this form of argumentation, I wish to make it clear that I do not subscribe to the idea that higher education is purely about reputation, financial stability, or the production of an effective workforce. Further, I do not accept the idea that international students are valuable only in terms of what they can offer to either educational institutions or the UK more generally. The current treatment of international students, and the blatant disregard shown for their welfare, is one of the most indefensible aspects of modern higher education policy.
(17.05.17) – Every Vote Counts – Students and the Election #2
I can’t be the only one growing a little exhausted with all these elections, right? Nonetheless, tired as we are, it has never been more important that we all get out and vote. In the local elections we saw something of a decimation of left leaning parties, to the benefit of the Tories. What’s more, those elections featured some astoundingly low turnout figures, many below 30%. As a result of this, I feel it is incumbent on me to encourage anyone reading this to ensure that they get out and vote in the general election on June 8th.
Recent years, have seen a spate of referenda within students’ unions on whether they should continue their affiliation to NUS. One of the union’s most prominent critics, Tom Harwood, is running for NUS president this year. With all this going on, I feel like it’s a good time to throw my hat into the ring.
New postgraduate loans have made extended higher education more accessible. While the situation is far from perfect, and access to further higher education remains restricted for many, new possibilities have been opened up. However, if students are to make the best of these opportunities, they need guidance.
(16.03.17) – Insult & Injury – The Student Lettings Ripoff
The problem is even more pronounced for postgraduates, who oftentimes find themselves moving into a new area where they know no-one, and looking for accommodation without the support of friends and housemates at their side. This can result in them being forced to live with people they do not know and can often see them having to find accommodation at the last second, limiting their choices. In addition to this, the inadequate level at which postgraduate student loans are set leaves many postgrads unable to afford ever rising rent costs. This can, of course, have dramatic consequences for their ability to effectively complete their studies.
(28.02.17) – We Need To Talk About Perfectionism
Perfectionism may seem like a fringe issue – a few of us are self-proclaimed perfectionists, but that’s just a personality trait, right? Maybe not. Issues of perfectionism have had a dramatic impact on my studies, and I have seen it increasingly manifested amongst the students around me. It is a key indicator of many other issues which students face in the modern university environment.
(14.02.17) – Poverty Loans: The Forgotten Fight?
Disclaimer: in what follows I am not suggesting that tuition fees are acceptable, nor that we should stop campaigning against further fee rises and for their complete abolition. But I think that we should put as much effort into campaigning on another, more pressing issue, which is often sidelined in the discourse around the marketisation of education. We need a maintenance loan settlement which works for all students and, crucially, higher postgraduate loans, to truly improve access to education.
(31.01.17) – The NSS: A Missed Opportunity for Solidarity
So, it’s that time of year again. The time of year where university finalists are asked to submit to the NSS (National Student Survey) and evaluate their university experience. This seems harmless enough. Indeed, the ability to criticise your institution in a way that might improve the experience of others can be portrayed as being positively progressive. However, this year, the data has a far more sinister usage. Because this year, NSS data is to be used in order to make decisions on whether or not to allow certain institutions to raise their fees. This change is coming about through the implementation of the TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework), and Tory reforms to higher education more generally.