Ahead of the new national lockdown, the University of Manchester this week put up fences around its Fallowfield halls of residence. It was unclear whether they were intended to keep the virus trapped inside or out. Students renamed the place HMP Fallowfield, and last night tore the fences down. ‘The fencing was intended as a response to a number of concerns,’ the vice-chancellor, Dame Nancy Rothwell, said. ‘Particularly about access by people who are not residents.’ There is a long tradition of walls around universities to keep ‘non-residents’ out. Hardy’s Jude Fawley scrawls a verse from the Book of Job on the wall of the university (modelled on Oxford) that he cannot enter: ‘I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you.’ The adult education tradition in the UK was named ‘extra-mural studies’. There is ongoing speculation about how the Christmas holiday should be managed, to avoid further spreading of Covid-19 when large numbers of students return home.
‘As time went by the military government became increasingly obsessed with our reading lists,’ Gabi Baramki writes in Peaceful Resistance (2010), his account of the founding of Birzeit University in the early 1970s. ‘Books we ordered from abroad were often permanently confiscated without us even setting our eyes on them.’ Texts on archaeology, history and Arabic literature were all banned.
Earlier this year I was teaching an evening class for part-time degree students in Bristol. A woman in her late twenties approached me, to check that I knew she would be breastfeeding. She introduced her classmates to her son, a few weeks old. The university does not have a policy for student parents, although it has one for staff. One of the slides I had prepared for our discussion showed a page from a 1972 essay by Adrienne Rich, 'Towards a Woman-Centred University'. Rich argued that childcare should be central in a higher education system remade for the demands of women's lives.