On Tuesday 16 October, The Guardian published an article on a principal who has closed his college to allow his students and staff to march on Westminster.
After continued cuts to further education, and a letter from the Commons Education Committee chairman, Robert Halfon to Chancellor Philip Hammond, highlighting the disparity between the funding of pre- and post-16 education, Principal of New City College, Gerry McDonald, shut his college doors so that all could attend a march on Westminster. The march was organised by the #LoveOurColleges movement, created by education and students’ unions, with an aim to call for extra government funding supporting fair pay and funding in the education system.
McDonald was quoted with the following battle cry to members of his university: “We have got to the position where it is no longer tenable to go on having polite conversations with officials from the Treasury that lead nowhere. So now we want to make a bit of noise”. This ‘making of noise’ is monumental in educational history with his decision to close the college being the first time a college has closed in order for staff to demonstrate.
The University and College Union has cited the fact that between 2009 and 2019, college funding has been cut by about 30 per cent with the value of staff pay dropping by over 25 per cent. It is easy enough to identify that our underfunded education system and underpaid staff are in much need of financial help in order to support a vital part of our country and surely we should be doing more to get the government to hear us. With so much going on in the world, noise definitely has to be made.
However, despite the dire straits that our education system is in, does cancelling class weaken the case against the funding of further education?
There may be a reason that universities and colleges have not closed before. In cancelling college, McDonald has removed the power of the statement that those protesting at Westminster would be making. The power of movements, such as strikes (whether you agree with them or not), is the statement that is made when the classrooms are abandoned and their absence is truly felt, not when it is permitted.
Added to this, despite the grand gesture that this is, in closing the college in its entirety, McDonald has removed the right of the faculty and students to choose. Not every student will agree with protesting against the government, not every faculty member will agree with the politics of the university. It is all very well making a dramatic stand, particularly for such an important cause, however, the disruption to the system not only weakens the effect of abandoning classrooms for the protests, but also assumes authority over the students and staff, and takes their right to choose (or continue teaching and learning) away.
The government needs to hear the voices of the education system – that is no question. But cancelling college seems to be an action that only weakens the cause, not strengthens it.
Image: Dani Kauf via Wikimedia Commons