We’ve heard a lot lately about the University of Birmingham ‘student experience’, which is apparently a new buzzword describing what it’s like to be a student at the University.
Whilst it’s not entirely clear what the difference is between the ‘student experience’ and simply being a student, recent developments at UoB have given a somewhat chilling indication.
At the beginning of academic year 2011-12, the elected student representative, Guild Vice President (Education), Edd Bauer, was supended from his post prior to the conclusion of any inquiry whatsoever. This suspension was quickly followed by his suspension from the University, and has already now lasted an entire term. This is despite widespread condemnation of the move, including a letter signed by over 40 NUS sabbatical officers, a letter signed by MPs and trade union leaders, a letter signed by over 100 members of the University’s Department of Political Science and International Studies, a petition with over 900 signatures, and an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons.
More heavy handed treatment was witnessed throughout the term. Director of Academic Services, Brendan Casey, was clearly recorded (at 4.10 in the video below) saying that he was ‘happy’ to have students arrested. This was in response to an occupation that sought to highlight opposition to the Government’s Higher Education White Paper and tuition fees. Given that Brendan Casey oversees all student disciplinary inquiries (as Director of Academic Services), this has led to a number of questions raised about his impartiality.
This was followed by more concerning events still. On November 23 students occupied an unused University building in an attempt to highlight, debate and critique the Higher Education White Paper. This ended with allegations of assault of students by security guards, an attempt by the University to discipline the student who complained about this, and the University taking out a 12 month injunction against ‘occupational protests’. The concerns about freedom of expression that this raised were such that Amnesty International felt it necessary to comment!
This, surely, is not what the University of Birmingham means when it refers to the ‘student experience’!?