Nowadays students have been more or less neutered by being sacrificed on the altar of consumerism, but in the 60s there was a wave of campus rebellions, most famously in 1968 when the students of Paris ‘almost succeeded in detonating a social revolution’.
The Observer Magazine of 8 October 1972 wondered ‘should the movement be seen as the inevitable response of white-collar apprentices to overcrowding, poor facilities and bleak prospects? Or as gross ingratitude by a pampered younger generation?’
Maureen McConville started her investigation in what was then West Germany where ‘the university system was years ago damned by a group of British academics as ‘anarchy coupled with professorial tyranny’. Part of the criticism was that students spent so long at university in Germany. One caption showing a young couple marvelled: ‘So many years are commonly spent studying that some 16% of students are married by the time they actually finish their courses.’Which was perhaps surprising given that ‘most German universities do not provide social facilities on campus’.
But reforms were afoot and they were bitterly contested. ‘To the average student the draft law’s real purpose is ruthlessly to shorten their studies, turning them upon the world with half an education and restoring the university of leisure to the elite. “If that law is passed,” said one, “we’ll have to store facts and give up thinking for ourselves.”’ Eat your heart out, Gradgrind.
Of course the younger generation were rebelling against more than their parents’ authority. ‘To listen to them,’ said one, ‘you’d think the Third Reich was just a big mistake! They can’t bear to think of it.’
‘What gives an odd twist to the conflict,’ explained McConville, ‘is the fact that most students depend largely or wholly on their parents. About a quarter of them actually live at home.’ Today, that’s mostly because of the huge financial burden and that doesn’t look like changing. But we’ll always have Paris…