Teaching Out in the ‘Great USS Pensions Strike of 2018’

Georgina Brewis, UCL Institute of Education

 

Last Monday morning, deliberately timed for when I should have been giving a 1.5 hour lecture to UCL BA Education Studies students on my youth history module, I gave a short teach-out on the UCL Institute of Education concourse. It was snowing, so I was genuinely touched that so many people turned up, including one of my PhD students, a couple of undergraduates and colleagues from UCL Geography and History departments. I’d optimistically printed 40 handouts (yes, I did handouts, with reading lists – I’m an academic after all), and they all went, so I took that as a good sign.

I asked people to examine some cartoons of students taken from daily newspapers in 1926 and 1968 and to briefly discuss these in small groups (credit here to the fantastic British Cartoon Archive at the University of Kent). How could we tell these people were students? What image of students did the popular press seek to convey? What lay behind the stereotypes of both periods? And how did we get from the popular representation of students in 1926 to 1968? The discussion was followed by a short talk about my research and a Q and A.

The range of teach-outs put on, often at very short notice, during the ‘Great USS pensions strike of 2018’ has been inspiring. In Bloomsbury there are teach outs every day, at multiple sites around the various campuses of UCL, SOAS and Birkbeck. There are far too many to attend all of them. All take place ‘out’ of the university, but some are literally outside on picket lines, others are post-picket events in (heated) rooms off-campus. The only real ‘rule’ of a teach-out is that you mustn’t use a teach out to deliver content from lectures or seminars that you’ve cancelled because of the strike.

Teach-outs are public events, and deliberately framed as alternative learning opportunities for all, often with a socio-political focus. They may seek to debate the marketisation of higher education, explore how to decolonise the academy or offer a historical perspective on past protest movements.

At UCL Institute of Education we’ve held teach outs each day of the strike so far, hearing from academics, PhD students and union figures. We’ve chalked ideas on the concourse, made banners and posters and had discussions and debates with colleagues we may have never spoken to before.

Other teach outs around campus have been similarly energising. I really enjoyed hearing Catherine Hall and Ayo Olatunji, UCL’s Black and Minority Ethnic Students’ Officer, talk at a UCL History teach out on the past and future of the university. I want to abandon my picket and go down to hear teach-outs at KCL, or Kent, or Cambridge. As my UCL colleague Jason Davies said on twitter ‘It’s a bit nuts when I want to come in on a day I don’t work to hear a teachout planned because we are on strike.’ I expect non-striking colleagues at other institutions may well feel the same.

As a scholar of student movements, I recognise and embrace some sense of continuity with the teach-ins and alternative colleges/university movements of the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1970s students and academics argued that political or community activism needed to be combined with demands for wider changes to the higher education curriculum and power relations within universities. Could the teach-outs of 2018 open the door to such changes in the academy today?

 

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