April 30, 2009

Researching Warwick

by Mark Carrigan

At last term’s EGM debating whether the Union should support the Gaza Sit-In, a group of students tried to close the meeting using procedural motions; when their calls were rejected, they walked out in protest, complaining loudly that the meeting had no democratic mandate given the vast swathes of the student population who weren’t present. There were 350 people in the meeting. While this was in itself a victory for Union democracy, the fact is unavoidable that this group constituted a small percentage of the student population. Acknowledging this is not necessarily an attack on the legitimacy of the outcome but it does highlight a whole series of questions about the views and understandings of the thousands of students who weren’t there. Who are they? What do they think? What do they agree on? What do they disagree on? Why do they think what they think?

Some would argue that they represent a silent majority, uninterested in the moral and political concerns that motivate student campaigners and that they deserve to have their interests represented over-and-above those of a minority of activists. While we would dispute this picture of widespread disinterest and apathy, the fact remains that neither case can be made with any degree of certainty. What does the ‘average’ Warwick student think about the political campaigns that go on at the university? Do they think that the Students’ Union represents a legitimate vehicle for social engagement or do they see the proper role of the Students’ Union as safeguarding the interests of students as consumers who pay fees to the university, guarding their pathway through education and into the world or work? Or, perhaps more likely, are their views more nuanced and complex than is commonly suggested? The only way to answer these question is to go out and talk to Warwick students – lots of them – and that’s why we’re proposing a research project, due to start this summer and run throughout the 09/10 academic year. We hope that what we find will contribute to a serious and factually informed debate about student politics and the role of the university in an era of ever-increasing economic and social uncertainty.

If you think this sounds interesting and would like to find out more or get involved in carrying it out then e-mail: m.a.carrigan@warwick.ac.uk. Carrying this out on a large enough scale to produce substantive and representative results depends on there being enough people involved in the project. Everyone can take part, regardless of what subject you study. It’s a chance to learn new skills (e.g. interviewing, analysis, research design) that will look good on postgraduate applications and to be part of something that will help create a better understanding of Warwick students, as well as pointing to wider trends in the relationship between students and political engagement.

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