After savage cuts to higher education and the breaking of the Liberal Democrats campaign pledges to oppose any raise in tuition fees, it is no surprise that student activism saw a massive, and perhaps much need, resurgence in the last year.
The vast majority of universities, including RHUL, have announced that they will be charging the maximum £9000 per year, in order to protect their brand image. This is despite the government modelling their policy on the assumption that the average fee would be £7500. As a result of this there are suggestions that there may have to be further cuts to research in order to cover the massively increased student loans.
At the forefront of the RHUL response to the cut is the Royal Holloway Anti-Cuts Alliance (ACA). The ACA have, at the very least, made for an interesting academic year with their mock funeral of higher education, sit in of The Founder’s Building corridor and the Arts Building, and the occupation of RHUL’s building in Bedford Square.
The first time the ACA came into direct conflict with a singular proportion of the student body was at the General Meeting, through their proposal of a motion that would oblige the SURHUL to provide financial and legal support. A number of sports and societies presidents reacted to this by messaging their members urging them to oppose the motion at the GM on the claims that it would compromise the ability of societies to operate on financial grounds.
Despite the SURHUL being filled with a rabble of angry sportspeople, the motion, after a very long evening, was eventually blocked on constitutional grounds. The demonstrations that took place in London and nationwide over Christmas were depicted by the media as becoming increasingly violent. This lead to the NUS’s president, Aaron Porter, not standing for re-election as it became clearer that he no longer supported the students he was supposed to be representing.
The perceived increase in the militant nature of the general anti-cuts movement has lead to the majority of students feeling marginalised and somehow finding themselves opposing it, despite their views often being in line with those of the ACA.
Just as it seemed that support for the ACA was at a low, Daniel Lemberger Cooper was controversially elected as SURHUL president for the next academic year. Controversy stemmed from allegation made that he and his campaign team had committed electoral misconduct. This was allegedly through sending an email asking for support to the Russian Society and unconfirmed reports that he had campaigned on a slate in a week where the highest ever number of complaints were registered across all candidates. Even though evidence supposedly existed with regard to the email, no action was taken by the SUHRUL, despite other campaign teams having their campaign hours cut after breaking the rules. This could potentially be due to the absence of Rachel Pearson, SURHUL president, for the duration of the elections.
This leaves the SURHUL in an interesting position. Many of its elected members have expressed, in private or otherwise, that they are hostile towards the ACA. This could mean that Mr. Cooper may find it rather difficult to carry out his job, if he stands by the more radical principles that lead him to the office in the first place. Ideally, we will have a situation where SURHUL are able to exploit Mr. Cooper’s pro-activity, whilst still ensuring that the motions that it passes are still representative of the student body.
But knowing what students actually want is an extremely difficult thing to do. During the lecturer strikes a motion was proposed that would mean the SURHUL officially supported the lecturers; a stand-point widely supported by the ACA. Even though it was likely that the motion would have had very little problem sailing through a GM, due to the exploitation of a constitutional loophole the motion was put to a referendum. This was on the expectation that so few students would actually vote that the referendum would fail to be quorate, meaning that the motion was unable to be passed even though there were actually more votes in support than opposition.
This brings us to the root of the problem. Very few students actually bother attending GMs, or even to vote, which means that there is no way of knowing what anyone actually wants. All the arguments end up being dominated by the extremes of either side. But is this necessarily such a bad thing? If we were to make an inference from all this, it would be that the average student would like SURHUL to take no stand on anything, stop passing motions entirely and essentially be reduced to a tacky night club.
As students it is essential that we make sure we are represented and make our voices heard, otherwise we will forever be part of a marginalised majority.