Carola Binney

The death of student activism

The death of student activism
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Oxford students heard this morning that, after a three-day referendum, our student union, OUSU, will be disaffiliating from the National Union of Students.

I voted to break with the NUS, and I felt confident doing so: Oxford’s membership currently costs us over £25,000 a year, and, aside from the dubious satisfaction of knowing that Nick Clegg will never be short of misspelt placards to stare at, no one has a clue what we get in return.

The most notable thing about the referendum was how little people cared. The turnout was just 15 per cent, despite voting taking place online. And this wasn’t an isolated example of lack of engagement with student politics - giving a good indication of how low expectations have become, Nathan Akehurst, NUS fan and former OUSU presidential candidate, told Cherwell this morning that he was delighted with the “incredibly high turnout”.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but my generation is witnessing the death of student activism. When my dad was an undergraduate, students were protesting against the Vietnam War and racial intolerance in their thousands, and everyone knew that Jack Straw was NUS President. When my mum was at Oxford in the 1980s, people wore badges saying things like ‘Why assume I’m heterosexual?’.

Those days are gone. Today’s students are far more concerned by exams, tuition fees and unpaid internships. Whereas once the hallmark of student protest was attaching oneself to controversial and abstract moral crusades, my generation only gets het-up about things affecting our own employability and financial security. (Youth unemployment for the last quarter was 19 per cent, and most of us will be arriving on hostile jobs and housing markets £27,000 in debt.)

Previous generations of students were the driving force behind nearly every radical campaign of their time, but my peers are too busy thinking about our CVs and our bank-balances. It’s easy to imagine the issues that we might get involved with - Syria, Libya, Iraq, climate change, fracking - but none of them have seen significant organised student involvement.

My cohort of students is the most sensible ever. We drink less, smoke less and take fewer drugs than our parents did, and we protest not at all.