Given the state of the world as of 2017, with a certain world premier threatening to annihilate a certain country, once-a-week apocalyptic storms, and Brexit looking like the proverbial ship and iceberg scenario – it’s good to have some good news once in a while, eh? I think that if there is to be any message for the new age we live in it has to be: Take what victories you can, where you can.
Such a victory came this morning for the students of Trinity St. David’s University, the conglomerate University super-structure in Wales that was formed from the merger of smaller institutions Lampeter St. David’s, Carmathen University, Swansea Metropolitan and more.
For just a moment, bear with me while I set the scene… Back somewhen in the days of shiny-faced Cameron and the ConDem coalition, it was decided that in order to make sure the City of London stayed happy [and all those psychopathic Bankers stay trading there] that the cost of their mistakes would be pushed over onto the public purse. New welfare reforms came in, public health spending was slashed, austerity was announced. A part of this was the axing of funding to Higher Education, asking them to charge their own fees [a possible max fee of £9k was routinely applied by most universities on their students]. Some institutions, such as Trinity St. David, decided to cut their costs, strip staffing contracts, and perform mergers with smaller institutions so then they would be eligible for more funding as a “new institution”.
A wise move perhaps, stick together against austerity – if only they weren’t pushing their costs onto the students, who had to pay higher and higher loans*.
The Main Show
Fightbacks never start where you expect them too [or frustratingly where you want them to either**]. But, when pushed, after a while any beleagured group can find small ways to try and claw back a bit of dignity. The trouble that was brewing in TDSU was not over bread and roses, but for parking permits.
Parking is one of those annoying, lesser-evils that can put a crimp on your day, eat up your time, and generally make life just that little bit shittier than it needs to be. Parking across TDSU has been terrible for a long time, with repeated attempts to revoke parking privileges to those who live in halls, or those who are on part-time courses. In some way this writer can sympathise with the harried university administrator – parking isn’t a privilege or a human right, after all – but let us consider for a moment those disabled students who cannot use public transport; or those young parents who have children to pick-up from day care and the shopping to do; or the many in Wales from rural communities with limited public transport at the best of times***?
What was even more galling for the people I knew involved with this was an email announcement sent out by the Trinity St. David’s administrator, suggesting that the university’s commitment to sustainability compels them to levy permits at a couple of hundred pounds a throw for the right to park on their grounds, with higher rates for the residential students.
Again, this writer finds the University’s commitment to sustainability laudable, but wonders why the University also hasn’t tried to run it’s own shuttle buses, or use biofuels, or install green energy systems such as solar panels, grey water management, wind turbines.
Further inconsistancies were found coming from the much-harried TSD administrator’s desk; when they hired a private security firm to police their parking scheme (spending thousands of pounds, presumably) instead of investing that money in parking spaces, or co-partnering with Town and County Council’s for affordable solutions. Parking permits were also not any guarantee of a parking space – just the opportunity to look for one. Those residential students who had to pay for the higher permit had no additional guarantees, and the off-campus residents with health concerns, care obligations, or special learning requirements were not allowed a discounted or fee-waiver system.
The Good News, & Afterthoughts
It is with great pleasure then, that I can announce that the blanket permit system has been scrapped for the 2017/18 academic year, thanks to the efforts of many students, and, in particular the TSDSU (Trinity St. David’s Student’s Union). Some say that behind the scenes that it might have been the rumblings of a class action law suit that changed the much-harried administrator’s mind – but who’s to say? You have to take what small victories you can in these turbulent times.
Why is this case important, and worthy of our attention? Because there are lots of small battles and small victories that can be won against austerity. Given the context of the Prequel above, we can see it was a blatant attempt to push costs that the university was already charging the students handsomely for (£9k each a year, remember) back onto those who can least afford it – and in some cases, cannot afford it at all.
Behind this small battle and small victory lies a much greater principle, of course: That care is directed downwards through society, whilst greater responsibility is directed to those with greater capacity. With any form of administration, whether in the academic sphere or corporate sense, it should be normal to expect greater responsible behaviour in line with their greater profit margins.
* And the austerity apparently continues, with Trinity St. David’s about to lose 10% of it’s staff, and asking current staffers to take voluntary redundancy.
** The famous Lampeter campus example of the Old Building (the administrative and historic heart of the complex) getting a makeover, tailor-made thousands-of-pounds-worth furnishings in the same year that students had to start borrowing £9k loans…
*** Where this writer lives, there is 1 bus a week. Read it nerds; 1.