Magazine article Times Higher Education

Undervalued Asset

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Undervalued Asset

Article excerpt

Kevin Fong asks: why shut a student newspaper offering valuable work skills?

This summer, unless something pretty miraculous happens, the London Student newspaper will shut its doors for the last time. The paper has been published in various guises for the best part of a century and has become the largest student newspaper in Europe. But none of this has convinced the University of London to continue to support it.

The news provoked a ripple of protest in the national press, along with heartfelt pleas from alumni who once worked for the publication - of whom I am one. This was followed by a robust response from the University of London, along the lines of: "We asked London students if anybody wanted it and pretty much nobody seemed to care."

It's hard, on the face of it, to argue with that. There was no cry of anguish from the hundred thousand or so students who study in the capital. There were no banner protests, no sit-ins, no walkouts. I'm guessing, though, that if you tried to measure the value of anything based on whether it sparked a student revolt, you'd end up with a pretty short and rather peculiar list of things deemed worth saving.

The amount of money required to keep the London Student running is reportedly about £54,000 per year. That sum was previously provided by the University of London Union, which will itself close on 1 August. An appeal for the constellation of colleges that comprise the federation of the University of London to chip in has fallen on deaf ears, despite the fact that each would have to contribute such a small amount that they probably wouldn't even notice that they'd spent it.

Why, then, can the publication not be salvaged? Many forces might be ranged against it. I'd imagine, for a start, that the assembled provosts of the University of London's colleges wouldn't really miss it much. But while it is true that occasionally it held them to account for stuff they might have preferred to forget, no one - neither the staff on the paper nor the college administrators - should overplay that. We're not talking about a student re-enactment of All the President's Men here: just the infrequent close-to-the-bone story that needed to be swatted away.

Anyway, I would argue that it's a good thing to have such a function within colleges of higher education. Not so much to act as their conscience: that too would be overplaying it. It's more like acknowledging the only member of your family honest and bold enough to tell you when you really shouldn't go out wearing that ridiculous shirt. Yes, at times the antics of student journalists can border on the mischievous, perhaps even irresponsible. But the encouragement of creative but constructive insubordination and the management of its fallout is surely a core function of any good university. …

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