Working at a students’ union at a university sounds to the uninitiated like there’s a lot of contact with academia because, you know, university. Duh. Apart from the fact that especially my role is more about delivery on the social side of university life. There are some frustrations that come with that. I have heard people in conferences and trainings I have attended in the past week call the attending students “customers”. I fundamentally disagree with that notion. There’s also a bit of a disconnect within the different services that are offered to the students, whether from the university or external providers, which irks me, because we should all work together to deliver the best student experience within our possibilities.
The Union I’m with is really trying to fulfil that promise of delivering the best student experience through a constantly evolving programme. One of them is introducing a residential to which newly elected student representatives such as committee presidents and part-time officers are invited, in order to foster a stronger bond with the Union staff, and an opportunity to teach them what they need to know in preparation of the academic year ahead before that year actually commences. And funnily enough, while we are – if anything – academia-adjacent, I found myself reading about Jürgen Habermas in research about similar ventures by other students’ unions.
Once upon a time I was a Politics with Media student at the University of East Anglia, which coincidentally had such a good provision of service and seemingly cooperated well with other student services that they were recognised by it as #1 for student experience by the Times Higher Education rankings in 2012/2013. Politics, as hopefully most university students will be able to tell you, greatly rely on the theoretical understanding of power, which Jürgen Habermas is a resident expert in. I must have read Habermas for a handful of modules at least, it seems to me, and all of that was completely reluctant and without any further understanding to it. As university students go, I wasn’t exactly the brightest, and readings were the bane of my life, because they rarely were worth the effort when I could listen to my fellow seminar attendants and chime in with an example from real life once I knew what they were on about.
And here it is. Habermas in real life, and I finally get it. It’s a shame that this breakthrough has come now. My enjoyment of modules were compromised by the heady nature of some of the texts we had to peruse. You can chase me with Kant and Rousseau still. Marx was horrible, though studying capitalism’s effects on the tangible world was an absolute pleasure. But that’s the point. I know that it’s not in the remit of my current position, and I will probably have no influence on this ever in my life, but if there’s one piece of wisdom I could pass on to my kids when they go to university, as they inevitably will have to in order to gain the basic leg up in life for their own careers (unless they’re particularly gifted in some skill that circumvents the time “wasted” at university by jump-starting their life-long jobfulness) (and sorry for the run-on nature of this sentence but that’s just how I think), then it is this: Find the real-life application.
I’ve graduated more than half a year ago, and I find myself delighted in reading academic articles, because for the first time it’s not what the lecturers are telling me to do, but me following my own curiosity. (Okay, that’s painting a sour picture. I loved my studies as they were as well, lecturers and module choices included.) With the upcoming elections for instance, I read blogs by faculty members of my old School of Political, Social and International studies. For fun. I feel quite smart now. Thanks, UEA.