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AUTUMN

10th September


Graduation

For those steeped in academic time the year's end is in September not December. In my college this coincides with the graduation ceremonies that seem always to be blessed with the last days of bright summer weather. They are the culmination of what is for many students the fullest, most formative and intense years of their life. A period packed with experiences that will be defining. "I can't believe how fast it's gone," is a common refrain that captures both the student's sense of accelerated time but also a period of rapid intellectual growth. At the examboard we call it "exit velocity" - ie, students whose marks have increased dramatically in their final year. On graduation day even the most down at heart professor can't help but be reminded of how much distance - intellectually and personally - each student has travelled. The evidence is paraded in front of us as we hear their names read out loud and watch them each in turn take the stage to receive symbolically their degree. There is something vitalising, for students and faculty alike, about the grandeur of graduation; it's the New Year's Eve of the academic calendar.

It is a good moment to take stock, make resolutions and re-imagine what the university might be. Elaine Showalter comments in her book Faculty Towers: "In the University there are two stories - those of the faculty and those of the students." She argues student experience, "continues to bring satisfaction... At most campuses in the UK and the US they are happy;

 


at some, deliriously so." The achievements of graduation day would appear to support this, despite the burden of student debt and uncertain employment prospects.



It is also a moment to apprehend how much an institution like Goldsmiths has changed. As they are read aloud from the ceremonial platform the names of the graduands echo connections to almost every corner of the world. The 'multicultural drift' - which has accompanied both the internationalisation of the university and widening access to higher education - to my mind is progress, albeit uneven in terms of inclusiveness and compromised by new borders. The scrutiny of overseas students by the UK Border Agency casts a shadow over the internationalism of today's university, where overseas students are treated as itinerant cash cows passing through UK higher education or, worse, mistrusted potential terrorists. The impact of the contraction of places as a result of public sectors cuts threatens to slow the drift to a more inclusive university. Regardless, the university is valuable now because it provides a place to encounter and live with differences and think beyond national horizons. This rarely produces clashes between immutable cultural blocks - although it can sometimes - but more routinely it involves exploring perspectives that shift, histories that are debates and cultures animated through the interplay between the legacy of the past and their emergent new forms in the present. While campus life is still haunted by racism, increasingly it

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AUTUMN -


17 September