Whatever happened to student apathy?

By Symon Hill
December 9, 2010

It wasn't like this in my day. When I was a student in the nineties, older people would criticise student apathy, contrasting it to their own experience of university in the sixties or seventies.

They'd say, “Oh, when I was a student, we'd spend all night occupying the vice-chancellor's office and bringing down the government, but students these days can't be bothered with activism”.

I wonder if many people my age are now saying, “When I was a student, we'd spend all night getting drunk and saying we didn't care about politics, but students these days have just got no time for apathy".

I'm sitting in a cafe on the Strand, having watched thousands of people march past to protest against an increase in tuition fees. Most are students, many are education workers, some are neither, but know that all of society loses out when education is attacked.

One slogan that frequently appears sums up the principle involved - “Education is not for sale”. Some of the more distinctive slogans on placards include “Mr Clegg, you stole my vote” and “All I want for Christmas is no increase in tuition fees”.

A good many politicians have spent quite a bit of time in the last few years bemoaning young people's lack of interest in politics. They've suggested gimmicks such as online voting and text voting to get people active. They've missed the point that if people think their vote will make a difference, they will probably use it.

The politicians who criticised apathy may now be thinking, “OK, I know I wanted you to be interested in politics, but not that interested”. Perhaps they'd rather the students were interested enough to go into a polling station once every five years, but not too bothered about what happened in the intervening period.

But the students marching down the Strand have realised that there is a lot more to politics than elections. Of course, elections and Parliament should not be ignored – they're important, but they're only one part of politics, which is about people's everyday experiences.

In the midst of a growing movement of resistance to the coalition's cuts agenda, people are realising something that has been ignored for too long – that politics is too important to leave to politicians.

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Corruptness is what happened

The youth of today just aren't willing to sit around and let life pass them by. If enough people tell them they matter, they will start to believe it. I am happy that the youth are getting more politically active. They aren't as active as their grandparents, but they are on their way.