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Eggucate, Eggpower, Eggploy

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On last Wednesday’s student demo, I and three other PhD students marched as the UCL Historians’ Bloc. Our placards summoned the spirits of E.P. Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm. It can seem as if raising a smile is the most to hope for from a protest when its manner, timing and location are subject to police permission (last year when the police threatened to use rubber bullets demonstrators responded with: ‘If I wanted to get shot I’d play Call of Duty’). Coming down the Embankment I bumped into an undergraduate from the course I teach on the revolutions of 1848. I’d been marking their essays the evening before for approximately £7 an hour. He told me he was one of UCL’s delegates to this year’s NUS conference. The slogan they chose for the demonstration was: ‘Tax the rich to fund education.’

The NUS president, Liam Burns, like all of his recent predecessors, is a member of the Labour Party, and the Union leadership preferred to rally around the Blairite bon mots ‘Educate, Empower, Employ’, which sounds like a slogan for one of the think tanks for which former NUS presidents seem to end up shilling. It is characteristic of an organisation that disowned student radicalisation in the winter of 2010 and which, like the Labour Party itself, isn’t opposed to charging students to go to university but disputes only how much to charge and how to collect the money. Michael Chessum, the president of the University of London Union and an organiser for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, described the NUS leadership as ‘demobilising and intellectually unserious’.

The demo was a wash-out in any case. The NUS had agreed a route with the police that took us along the Embankment towards Parliament, but then turned left across Waterloo Bridge to a rally at Kennington. No programme, no demands, and not even a political target for our anger. As the rain fell on a thinning crowd marching nowhere, the UCL Historians’ Bloc disbanded. Half of us went home to work, the other two to the pub, where we heard that Burns had been egged at the rally. This, it seems, was the work of the Imaginary Party, who had decided to eggucate Burns on the symbolic power of direct action.

Comments on “Eggucate, Eggpower, Eggploy”

  1. John Cowan says:

    Very like what Tristan Tzara (not the real one, but the one in Tom Stoppard’s Travesties) gives as an example of Dada, “The Eggboard, a sport or pastime for the top ten thousand, in which the players, covered from head to foot in egg-yolk, leave the field of play.”

  2. semitone says:

    Harry, I wish you well with your PhD. I guess even before you started it you’d already done, what is it, four years or more at uni. Can you remind me again why you don’t think you should have to pay for any of that?

    • Harry Stopes says:

      Thanks for your kind wishes semitone.
      Broadly speaking, for the same reasons that both you and I (assuming you’re in the UK) don’t have to pay at the point of use for healthcare or schooling up to 18. Clearly you have a different view, but this isn’t special pleading for university students on my part – HE and FE in general should be better provisioned, more widely available and free or at least cheap for everybody who would benefit from them.

  3. former_subscriber says:

    Why should a guy who fries chips for a living – for less than £7 an hour – pay for you to study?

    The economic reality is that subsidized state provision of higher education represents a net transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.

    The idea of provisioning higher education for anybody who would benefit, includes, theoretically, everybody in the world.

    Furthermore, as you are surely aware, there is already a massive overproduction of graduates and post-graduates…

    For all of these reasons, in my opinion, the higher education system in the UK should be radically reformed, and the function of the university rethought.

    But what you have written here is indeed special pleading.

    • Harry Stopes says:

      It would be special pleading if I had said that I’d be happy to see the rest of public sector destroyed as long as the universities are saved.

    • robert higgo says:

      People who earn £7 an hour don’t pay UK income taxes. In case we really are concerned about their life chances, and fairness, we might want to consider how many years they would need to save to be able to afford £27k in tuition fees for a 3 year degree.

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