Question Time comes to Lancaster

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On Tuesday of Week 8 Lancaster University hosted its very own Question Time, following the style of the popular and long-running BBC TV programme, where audience members watched a well-qualified panel discuss questions surrounding the theme of “Politics and Religion.”

The panel included two prominent politicians, Charles Clarke, former Home Secretary, and Clare Short, former MP and Secretary of State for International Development. The other members of the panel included Shuruq Naguib, one of Lancaster’s Politics, Philosophy and Religion (PPR) lecturers, Liam Burns, President of the National Union of Students (NUS), along with Laurence Hemming and Ziauddin Sardar, internationally-recognised scholars, writers and intellectuals. Linda Woodhead, Professor of Sociology and Religion in the PPR Department, chaired the event.

The event, held on the eve of the University and College Union (UCU) strike, saw many interesting questions being raised, ranging from the consequences of the Arab Spring and the place of religion within this revolution, to the recent anti-capitalism demonstrations outside St. Paul’s Cathedral and whether this type of protest could indeed be justified.

The debate did have a student focus in parts, ensuring that the notorious rise in tuition fees and the lack of job prospects for students were addressed.

Charles Clarke spoke of the “enormous gulf” that faces graduates of today, and although he acknowledged that the state could not afford to cover all costs for students; the tripling of tuition fees appeared to be a step too far, a view also shared by Ziauddin Sardar.

Clarke also agreed with a member of the audience who suggested that those who had already benefitted from free university education should help subsidise the next generation via the tax system.

Clare Short focused on the significance of education, arguing that the privilege of learning was a value that our society is quickly losing. “The unbearable tuition fee rise leads to the increased marketisation of higher education,” she said, “and this demonises the system and degrades us all.”

For the panel, the capitalisation of education appeared to be an objectionable idea. This theme reared its head again when the discussion turned to the impending University and Colleges Union (UCU) strike, which took place on the 30th November.

Laurence Hemming queried the need for a UCU strike: “I believe it must be hard for the private sector to understand what the public sector are demanding,” he said, “but I confess, I myself am unclear about the current dispute.”

“I can understand why lecturers and PhD students feel the need to go on strike,” NUS President Liam Burns told the audience “and I support them in their 24-hour strike. However, long-term strike action has a detrimental effect on students. I simply could never encourage anything close to an academic boycott when there are other means of protest.”

Turnout for the event was high and a live screening of the evening, courtesy of the Politics Society, took place in Bowland North where attendance was also substantial. With such great interest in the event, the panel were very impressed with Lancaster’s students.

“The questions this evening were of a high standard,” Charles Clarke told SCAN. “It’s fantastic to see such a variety of questions that discuss both student-orientated issues as well as international events like the Arab Spring.”

So have students become more political in their outlook?

“Students have always had an interest in politics and I feel that the NUS have followed their lead,” said Liam Burns. “Since the Liberal Democrats shied away from their pledge to not increase tuition fees,” he went on, “the NUS has been looking for different methods of direct action and thanks to our members’ determination to improve student services, we’ve developed a public face.

“Even small efforts make a difference and that’s why we’ve now launched ‘I Am The Change’ to allow every student to write about changes they want to make in their community and if their idea is the most popular, we’ll make it happen.”

To learn more about ‘I Am The Change’ visit www.nus.org.uk

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