Sunday, 13 October 2013

The Skegness student experience

One of the phrases you hear all the time in universities nowadays is ‘the student experience’. It’s an incantation only rivalled in ubiquity by the ‘£9K offer’ – which puts me in mind of nothing so much as those cashiers at railway station newsagents who, when you are buying a newspaper or magazine, also try to interest you in a bumper pack of Maltesers, a giant Yorkie bar or a ‘meal deal’. The literary theorist Thomas Docherty has this to say about the former phrase:

‘The story of “the student experience” begins not in the cloisters of Oxbridge, nor on the leafy campus of Sussex or Keele. It begins, in fact, in the period of a certain kind of scarcity of resources in the lead up, during and after the Second World War; and it can be said properly  to begin in a relatively small seaside resort town on the east coast of England: Skegness. Skegness is where Billy Butlin opened his first holiday camp, with a novel kind of business model. The idea … was one where you paid an initial global sum as an entry-price to the attractions, and then got access to an entire raft, or a “suite” as it is now called in business jargon, of facilities. The model was one where, by paying a fee upfront, you were entitled to what would ostensibly look like “free” access to all the facilities.’ – Thomas Docherty, For the University: Democracy and the Future of the Institution (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), p. 58.

Maybe I should buy a red coat and start practising my jazz hands.

‘It’s all very well sneering at universities, and students with those awful scarves and flat-heeled shoes, but really and truly, it would be wonderful to have a bit of kosher education: I mean, to know what’s up there in the sky: just up above you, like the blue over the umbrella, and find out whatever’s phoney about our culture, and anything in it that may be glorious and real.’ – Colin MacInnes, Absolute Beginners (1959)

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