It’s the start of the new university year, and, alongside the happy arrival of new and enthusiastic students, there is also the return of business as normal.
And I do mean business.
Increasingly, it seems, our local powers-that-be are regarding students as captive customers, whose money should be captured and recirculated by the university as much as possible. The latest horrors I’ve heard in this area concern the social side of halls of residence. Every expenditure, I am told, down to the last plastic cup bought for a welcome event, has to be approved by someone in the central administration, and if there is a way that item can be bought from the university, then it has to be. This causes problems when you forget something necessary on the night, and can lead to idiocies, such as an instruction to buy pizzas from a university outlet rather than a delivery company, because they were ‘cheaper’, ignoring the fact that university pizzas were 10″ while the delivery ones were 17″. At the same time, the halls are banned from spending any money on outside events, so the great things we did for freshers when I was a UG – boat trips, skating trips, cinema trips – are right out.
Rampant commercialism continues elsewhere on the campus. The non-academic staff club was closed down over the summer, to be redeveloped into an identikit bar run by commercial services (no real ale, no privacy from students etc.), while the opticians on the main walkway has been evicted, to be replaced by yet another commercial services catering outlet. The wardening system, whereby academics and graduate students assist with welfare in halls, is under renewed threat, and further chunks of the Union’s space are being bitten off for development into revenue-producing accommodation. Commerce not caring appears to be the university’s attitude to students and staff.
What impression does this give to the students? Does it make them feel appreciated, cared for, appreciated as individuals?
Of course not. It makes them feel like cash cows, which is how they are being treated. The long term consequence of this is to make it far less likely that any of these people will, in later life, make large charitable donations to the institution. A small short term gain becomes a much larger long term loss.
Is this how the Harvards and Oxbridges of this world got to have large endowments? I think not.