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How the other half protest: Student activism against overseas student fees in Polytechnics c. 1967-1980

Event type
History of Education
Event dates
, 5:30PM - 7:30PM
UCL Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, Room 675.
Jodi Burkett (University of Portsmouth)
020 7862 8740

Discussion of student activism in post-war Britain is dominated by discussions of University students. While University students were certainly active, they were not alone. What is often left out of these accounts were the students at the UK’s nearly thirty Polytechnics. That is, nearly half of the students in UK HE in this period. Underpinning this oversight are some common assumptions about Poly students – that they were more focussed on their careers and therefore less political, and that they were selfish and self-interested. Neither of these assumptions are borne out by the historical evidence. 

This paper aims to begin to fill this gap by exploring the activities of students at Polytechnics around the issue of overseas student fees. Using student newspapers, oral histories and archival collections, this paper will argue that Polytechnic students were much more politically active and engaged then they have been given credit for. Students at Polytechnics were members of the National Union of Students and were heavily involved in activities designed to protest rises in overseas student fees.  Exploring the actions and activities of Polytechnic students will not only give us a better picture of UK HE in this period, and the significant contribution of overseas students, but also adds to our understanding of changes in post-war British society and culture.  Students at Polytechnics tended to come from a wider range of backgrounds than University students and included high numbers of overseas students. When their activities and experiences are included in our histories of students, student activity, and student activism, we get a much more nuanced picture of the significant impact of the massification of UK HE, and the role and importance of overseas students in this period on British society and culture.