Imperial College isn’t the place it used to be. The student body is becoming less inward focussed, less tolerant of poor decision making on the part of the university, and less dismissive of things beyond the four walls of their degrees. We have a way to go yet, but the culture at our university is starting to shift, and a look back over the last year suggests progress is being made.
Beginning with the elephant in the room: it’s easy to overlook the fact that this year a strike at Imperial College actually achieved something, with university management at Imperial and across the country being forced to concede on proposed changes to staff pensions. Student involvement bolstered this, with students standing on the picket lines, and over a hundred attending events in solidarity at the start and end of the action.
Certain ‘progressive’ groups on campus, such as the Labour Society and IQ, enjoyed record high membership this year. Divest Imperial, the campaign to get College to take its money out of toxic investments in fossil fuel, and the Left Forum, a non-partisan political/campaign group, also enjoyed high engagement this year. Some of these groups are coming together to form a united ‘Action at Imperial,’ with the goal of making our university a slightly better place.
There are even positives from within the Union, with strong showings from our Liberation Officers and student reps. In spite of the surprise addition of the Wellbeing Representation Network this year, rep engagement across the university has been relatively high, with reps campaigning for better personal tutoring, a stronger counselling service, and agreeing with staff on how the curriculum review (in which all the content in every course is up for change) will take place. Meanwhile the liberation officers’ work this year has included a campaign for gender neutral bathrooms, organising a talk by Akala, work on neurodivergence, improving accessibility in Ethos, and fighting to improve the College’s bursary provision. Union Council, the Union’s chief decision-making body, has also been largely well attended this year, and while the contentious and often tedious nature of these meetings can be off-putting, they are a vast improvement from the empty rooms and low attendance which plagued past years.
In all of these cases, Felix itself played a significant role, thanks in large part to the editorial team. Liberation officers have had regular columns, giving them a platform to discuss the oft-overlooked but important issues faced by the groups they represent. During the UCU dispute, it was easier to find news in Felix than the national press. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, Felix has challenged both the Union and College this year. Regarding the former, Felix has detailed the poor handling of certain sensitive issues, and more generally has done a good job reporting on the decisions being made in our name and on our behalf in Beit. On the latter, articles have detailed the university’s vast assets, the significant pay and Brobdingnagian expenses of senior university management, and inequality at Imperial.
All of this suggests that the mood at Imperial is shifting, but there’s still more to be done. First of all, those of us who feel these improvements are important must work to ensure what we have isn’t lost – that this year won’t just have been a flash in the pan. That means we have to actively engage in representation, liberation, and a student newspaper to cover it all: supporting things from the sidelines isn’t enough. More ambitiously, it means using this year as a foundation – channelling what we’ve achieved into productively challenging the university and refusing to accept at face value what we’re told. Does a university who pays its “key management personnel” almost £300k each, with more than £100m in surplus need to cut staff salaries (in real terms) or the SCR breakfast (in very real terms) to save money? Should these “KMPs” be foisting wide scale changes to the degree courses on reluctant academics?
When one quarter of all the undergraduate students sign something, is it unreasonable to expect some kind of formal response? Is it acceptable that for years, some departments haven’t had so much as a common room? Should the foremost British Science and Technology institute invest its money in arms, cigarettes, and fossil fuels? As students, we have a responsibility to ask these questions – we shouldn’t just be spectators: there would be no university without us.
Things will only change if people who care do something about it. It seems we’re starting to, and I sincerely hope this trend continues in the next academic year.
If any of this resonates with you, and you want to know what you can do to help, feel free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org