YOUNG VOICES

The Student-Led 'Whose University?' Campaign Is Fighting Against Cambridge's Poor Treatment Of Its Students

05/01/2015 08:38 GMT | Updated 05/01/2015 08:59 GMT

A new campaign at Cambridge University has been set up to protest the university's treatment of its students - who critics say are being failed by the institution.

gfh

Whose University? is a campaign calling on Cambridge University to change the way it prioritises its students

The Whose University? group rose from a mounting frustration with the way students felt they were being treated.

This frustration culminated during Women's Forum - the organising space for the CUSU Women’s Campaign - when, according to the campaigners: "Every woman in the room seemed to have a different experience of poor treatment by their college."

This indicated "a serious, structural problem" within the Cambridge University and the Whose University? campaign was subsequently born.

"The needs and welfare of students is no longer a priority for Cambridge University", campaigners from the group told The Huffington Post UK. "We believe that this is a basic violation of the university’s purpose, and that this needs to change.

"Colleges have proven that they have no interest in empathising with, or even attempting to understand, the situations of individuals which differ from the norm. People who try to use their college as a safe place - people who often don’t have anywhere else to go - are treated as a burden, an inconvenience. The colleges refuse to listen and they refuse to change."

xgh

The Whose University? campaigners believe there is a serious, structural problem within Cambridge University

Whose University? is run as a non-hierarchical collective organising group, with the aim being to give a platform to other students.

"That we work as a collective means that people who are otherwise afraid to act or speak out against the way they have been treated in college are able to have a say in the campaign without compromising their personal safety or future at Cambridge", the campaigners explained.

Whose University? also works in collaboration with other organising groups in Cambridge such as the CUSU Women’s Campaign and the project Cambridge Speaks Its Mind.

Whose University? has received "nothing but positive comments and offers of support from other student societies" according to its members. However the reactions from the university so far have been negative.

The campaigners been at the receiving end of statements from key members of college administrations, dismissing the experiences of students as “ill-informed” and “tendentious”.

The campaigners have argued that such comments are misplaced and poorly argued, saying: "Experiences cannot be 'ill-informed'."

vc

Could the Whose University? campaign spread to other universities? The team of campaigners have been "surprised and humbled" by the amount of responses and attention they have received from students, local and national press.

"We’ve clearly hit a nerve", they said. "It's a widespread problem with higher education today and we hope that by causing change we can inspire others to set up parallel societies across the UK to prioritise the needs of students."

So what changes would Whose University? like to see?

"We would like to see colleges and the university making accountable decisions which show an understanding of and a sensitivity to the needs of students, particularly those students who face one or more forms of oppression," the campaigners explained.

"We would like to see these needs come before the pursuit of income and prestige and for the university to work actively towards alleviating students’ experiences of marginalisation and oppression rather than perpetuating them."

gf

"That we work as a collective means that people who are otherwise afraid to act or speak out against the way they have been treated in college are able to have a say in the campaign"

Publicity for the campaign comes mainly in the form of students' personal testimonies. So was it difficult finding people to speak out, despite the testimonies being anonymous?

"We have had an incredible response so far however some people have been worried about being identifiable so have asked us to keep not only their name but their college anonymous also."

The campaigners believe this is indicative of the culture of colleges responding to students who are critical with individual victimisation. "This, again, is part of the problem - Cambridge are more worried about their reputation than their students."

gh

The campaigners recognise that Whose University cannot solve all of Cambridge's problems entirely. However, they remain determined to enact change.

"We live in a fundamentally unjust society, in which oppression is still a daily fact for far too many people. Universities, as spaces for education and critical thought, should be at the forefront of combating structural injustice, instead of perpetuating it. This is what Whose University? is, in essence, about."

A university spokesman told HuffPost UK: “Cambridge Colleges are registered charities which prioritise teaching, learning and research. Supporting those priorities involves a combination of fundraising and conference activities which means facilities used by students in term time are also made available for other purposes during the rest of the year.

“Colleges always consider individual circumstances when students have a genuine need for year-round accommodation and do their best to assist."