Poor grades? Blame the protests

Students at King’s College, Cambridge, spent so much time on protests challenging the higher education reforms that they neglected their studies, according to its provost.

January 3, 2012

In the college’s annual report, Ross Harrison says undergraduates’ commitment to opposing higher tuition fees had contributed to a downturn in exam results in 2011.

King’s, an established hotbed of student radicalism, plummeted down an internal ranking of Cambridge colleges based on academic performance from 14th to 20th out of 29.

Professor Harrison blames the drop on the “special duty” that students at King’s had taken in resisting the coalition’s “assault” on universities.

He says undergraduates had “flung themselves into resistance" and “some of the most active political performers descended in their results as compared with last year”.

“There were more King’s students than any other college on the buses down to the demonstrations [in November 2010],” he adds.

“King’s was significantly represented at the occupation of the university’s Old Schools [at the end of 2010] in an attempt to make the university take a harder line against the government.”

Commenting on the college’s academic performance, he says: “The forward march of King’s has halted.

“Just a very small number of 2:1s rather than firsts make a difference to the ranking tables, where all the colleges are closely clumped in the middle.

“There has been weeping and wailing and we have tried to find someone’s teeth to gnash.

“If there’s anyone to gnash it’s the government. King’s is a particularly political college and the students felt a special duty to resist the assault of the government on the universities, as they saw the massive prospective hike in fees.”

He adds that the increase in fees to up to £9,000 a year is “of deep concern” to the college’s fellows, who hope to “raise additional money to fund the increased scholarship and student bursary provision that tripling the fees will require”.

Among the students who took part in the student protests was Jacob Wills, 22, who graduated in the summer with a 2:1 in literature and social theory.

Mr Wills was also among activists who opposed the eviction of travellers from Dale Farm, in Essex, in September.

“I learnt far more through working with others to defend the existence of my course for future generations than I lost by ending up with a 2:1 [rather than a first],” he told the Daily Telegraph.

King’s annual report also notes that a Union Jack flag was torn down and burned in a college quad in a protest during the Royal Wedding.

The incident took place on 29 April after the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge was screened in the college’s bar, which had been decorated with red, white and blue bunting, as well as several large Union flags.

One of the flags was taken down and burned in Chetwynd Court, the reports says.

“This act was very divisive, with some students being strongly offended by it and others feeling that it was a legitimate protest against the way the bar was decorated”, the report says. “Many felt incredibly strongly about the issue, and the incident caused a good deal of tension within the community”

The college bar is still decorated with a Soviet hammer and sickle flag.

The report says the college union’s “policy on the Soviet flag displayed in the bar explicitly permits the display of potentially offensive national symbols.

“It is understood that symbols by their nature mean different things to different people, and may cause offence to some but not to others.”

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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