Will Barber Taylor discusses how the Young Fabians can and should work with universities to foster greater debate and exchange of ideas.
Otto Von Bismarck once said of students from German universities that one third wore their lives out in study, one third broke down in dissipation and one third ruled Germany. Bismarck’s remark has survived in the human imagination for so long because it perhaps has a ring of truth to it. Students then as now have always had the pressures of work on them and the Coronavirus pandemic has only added to this. The caricature of the lazy student coasting through life has never been true and anyone who has either studied at university now or at any point will know the inaccuracy of this statement. COVID-19 has only added to these struggles and brought the pain of students more vividly to life than ever before.
Whether it be the struggles of mental health issues, the lack of work for graduates or the increasing feeling of many students that their voices have been marginalised by a government and society that prefers to ignore them, students feel more ignored than ever before. The growing anger at the unwillingness of universities to properly tackle sexual assault cases or the haphazard response to the Coronavirus pandemic which has seen a hodgepodge of reactions from institutions will not be quietened. Equally, the government’s insistence that universities, rather than places of learning and debate are in fact propaganda centres filled with left wing academics shows not only a lack of understanding of universities but also a desire to remove agency from students and dismiss their legitimate concerns as being part of a larger culture war. Students should never be seen merely as props as the government has too often seen them. We are not some faceless, lifeless object to be used to stoke further cultural divisions – our concerns are entirely legitimate and need to be heard.
However, it is difficult for young people to get a hearing in politics – not simply because, generally, those at the height of the political ladder are older (and in some cases certainly not wiser) but also because young people are often more radical and eager for change than their elders. They desire change but they exist in a world which seems unchanging and one that doesn’t care for their opinion. This kind of intellectually engaged debate deserves as many possible outlets as can be given to it.
I was recently elected the Young Fabian’s West Midlands Group’s Universities and Unions Outreach Officer. It’s a role that I’m very humbled to be able to undertake because in any movement or organisation and particularly one whose emphasise is on young people, universities are the bastions of change and ideas. They are at the heart of progressive politics and the place in which ideas can be challenged and integrated by people who want to implement them in the future. There is already one such incredible Young Fabians group at a university; the University of Manchester’s Young Fabian Society is a beacon for all.
The whole team, but especially Chair Amy Dwyer, are an inspiration to all Young Fabians. I hope in my new role to not only encourage the replication of the kind of organisation the UoM’s Young Fabians is at universities across the West Midlands but to fundamentally encourage a new emphasis in the Young Fabians to be at universities across the country. Universities brim with people fired up by the past few years, angry at austerity and asinine rebukes of their views. The Young Fabians has a duty to engage with university students because as an institution that prides itself on enlivened debate designed to provoke ideas and change the world for the better, there is no better place for us to be than to be on university campuses, encouraging debate and discussion.
For a society like the Young Fabians to ensure that we are generating ideas and encouraging more people to engage with us as a society then we have to spread our ideas as far as possible amongst people both online and in regional meetings and also in universities as well. The Young Fabians has a lot to offer university students and university students have a lot to offer the Young Fabians. It is a universal truth that change does not come without effort, engagement and energy and all of those things are at universities. We can and we should work together and this is what I hope to achieve as the West Midlands Group’s Universities and Unions Outreach Officer.
If you would like to get in touch with me regarding the Young Fabians West Midland’s Group then you can either on Twitter at @WBarberTaylor or via email at [email protected].