Safe spaces and no-platdevelop plans have actually come in for media ridicule. But a more nuanced controversy is ensuing on university campuses


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College is presented as an intimidating, rather than exciting, experience, states Dennis Hayes. Photograph: Alamy
University is presented as an intimidating, quite than interesting, suffer, states Dennis Hayes. Photograph: Alamy

Students are having a tough time in the public eye at the moment. They’ve been referred to as coddled and also spoilt, and also told that they don’t understand also flexibility of speech. Disdain has actually come from high-profile figures consisting of Rictough Dawkins, Jackie Ashley (president of the University of Cambridge’s Lucy Cavendish College), and also College of Oxford chancellor Chris Patten. But is the criticism warranted?


“It upsets me when civilization have actually a go at students,” claims Joanna Williams, a greater education and learning programme director at the College of Kent. “It’s unfair bereason it’s not all students who want to ban things; project teams and also students’ unions regularly represent a tiny minority. Also, students are often simply acting out political fads occurring in the remainder of society. Look at the petition to ban Donald Trump from the UK.”

But Williams says we need to nonetheless be active in addressing these pertains to. When Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines was banned by student unions in 2013, for example, she claims many type of erroneously attracted a causal link in between a “yukky song and also real sexual violence”. Instead, she claims, academics should display students exactly how to controversy and also difficulty concepts that they disagree through.

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Williams proposes that the safe spaces movement springs from a absence of maturity in modern-day students. “When young civilization arrive at university, they may be physically adult however they are not as adult – mentally and also emotionally – as previous generations were,” she says.

Progressive places

Student proponents, unsurprisingly, disagree. Naa Acquah, general sectary of the College of Manchester’s student union, says that quite than swaddling students in a blanket ban on hard principles, safe spaces offer much-require respite from discrimination.

“Tright here are several prejudices in society: racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia,” she claims. “Students are not shielded from these in their day-to-day stays, and, in some instances, they endure them a lot. So why not try to make the campus setting a little bit even more progressive, and different from those negative, prejudicial experiences?”

But some academics argue that this sensitivity is actually the product of a new style of university management. Dennis Hayes, a professor of higher education at the University of Derby, claims the “student experience industry” treats young human being as breakable, partially as an outcome of the competition for tuition fees.

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“Everything from welcome week to on-site counmarketing to puppy rooms – they all come together to present university as an intimidating fairly than an interesting experience,” he offers.

Hayes notes that the idea of the “therapeutic university” is on the increase. But and dealing with students with son gloves, he claims, this shift in attitude has actually left staff censoring themselves, for fear of resulting in offence.

Other argue that, far from therapeutic, university life is tough and tbelow is now better pressure on students than ever before. Last year, Universities UK’s mental wellbeing functioning team reported that demand for counmarketing services has actually been rising by 10% a year.

Trauma and also triggers

Ed Pinvital, a psychological wellness campaigner, argues that students have to be applauded for looking out for their peers that are encountering troubles.

“Staff could think that students are being hysterical, however tright here are traumas on campus,” he states. “In a student populace of many type of thousands, tbelow are numerous factors for students to be wary of what might be triggering or emotionally challenging to some of their peers.

“Pastdental care is a quaint term, yet it has been decreasing in recent years as tbelow are more students and also fewer staff available to talk to them. The individual relationship in between academics and also students has changed, and also that is the factor for the some of the misunderstandings.”


Stephen Jones, a senior lecturer in higher education at the College of Manchester, claims colleges must ask themselves if they are giving the sort of assistance to which students respond.

“We pin details of office hours to our doors and also wait for students to seek our aid,” he claims. “But that have the right to be more intimidating than we realise for some undergraduates.”

So what is to blame for the tension growing on campuses? A rapid rate of readjust merged through distaste for student-experience initiatives? The lack of dialogue between staff and students? An old-fashioned generational divide?

Acquah votes for the latter: “People who are component of an older generation currently think they resolved everything, and culture can’t acquire any kind of more gradual, but it can.”

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