Time to put down the pint and pursue politics
Student ideals have often been associated historically with radical views and lifestyles. Anyone who was a student in London during the last century will readily recall events that attracted the attention of not only the local media, but the whole of the rest of the country. Student activism was rife: protests in Grosvenor Square against the Vietnam war, CND marches, anti-racism protests and student sit-ins – the first of which incidentally was at The London School of Economics in 1967, because of two suspended students. In fact, back then, anything seemed to be preferable to actually studying.
Life as a Manchester student today is very different. In the 60s and 70s most people were mollycoddled with generous grants and bursaries and they had spare time on their hands. These days, with the exorbitant cost of education and loans of over £50,000 to repay, it’s more likely that the average student will be spending many of their waking hours earning cash in a part-time job rather than marching on the Town Hall to complain about politics, the environment, the economy or social issues.
And student demographics have changed as well. This country has always been a magnet for overseas students and possibly today the attraction of top British educational institutions is more evident than it’s ever been. Maybe the influx of international students, now accounting for around a third of university intake, has helped to mark a change in attitudes.
Riddi Viswanathan is international students officer at the University of Manchester’s Student Union. She explained how she has seen student life changing: “I came here in 2014 and I have seen the difference even over these few years. I think because the universities are becoming global these days, it’s not just a certain type of student anymore. There are so many people from so many different countries and each has their own way of living and different matters of entertainment.” Riddi adds that she believes that not all students are fond of parties and alcohol.
Sara Khan, the Union’s liberation and access officer, agrees and adds “In my opinion, over the last five or ten years people are getting more politicised at a younger age. They come here because they want to help people or change something.” Riddi and Sara also add that they are worried about the effect of Brexit and how it will affect their status within the UK.
Bernie Cullen, a mature student who recently studied creative writing at MMU said, “Social life was much more confined to the university in the 1980s. Going into local pubs was a rare and treasured thing. Students in Manchester tend now to dominate a whole area and they seem to be catered for very directly by the local traders; it seems almost predatory.”
With all their financial demands and lifestyle worries, it’s little wonder that a cup of coffee has replaced a pint of beer and part-time evening jobs have taken the place of all-night parties. Much more socially acceptable behaviour than the protest marches and riots of yesteryear.