Last Friday 11 as I got off the train at UAB a strong smell of garbage hit my nose. As I walked towards the Department using a back lane, I could soon see that the whole area from the station to the Faculties was covered in litter: crushed cans, plastic bags, rests of snacks… Another teacher was filming it all with his smartphone, I guess the images must be already available at some website or other. Hours later, on the way back home, walking to the station through our main square, I was simply dismayed to see the incredible amount of trash piling up all over the place. Clearly, the effort to dirty the campus had been systematic, a form of protest. Who’d done it? Our own UAB students, of course, who celebrated last Thursday what they call an ‘alternative’ holiday, that is to say, a wild party without the required authorisation.

The same UAB students called a 48-hour general strike a week later (16 and 17), together with some teachers and admin personnel, on the grounds that Catalan universities are at risk of total collapse if the budget cuts that the Catalan government is preparing are implemented. This is indeed the case: top research is in dire straits and many jobs on the line, not to mention the basics of daily teaching, such as having reasonably sized groups in order to offer personalised attention. In our university the figure is already out: we must ‘save’ 6,8 million euros from our already very tight 2012 budget. I don’t want to think how, I’ll see soon enough.

What baffles me is that basically the same students organising the massive wild party or ‘botellón’ are also in many cases the ones supporting the strike. Last year the party cost the UAB 300,000 euros including cleaning up and the many elements that had to be repaired or replaced. I assume the cost is going to be similar this year. What is the sense, then, in complaining that public money is being wasted if students themselves waste it in this way? There’s also something else: the dirt spread all over campus clearly indicates that many are getting an education paid with public money they obviously don’t deserve. They think they’re paying for it but registration fees only cover 10% of the real cost. The barbarians are not at the gate, they are within the gates and it is getting worse. The so-called ‘right’ to have fun can never be an excuse to behave as so many did.

I’ve been asked when telling other colleagues about this mess why these wild parties aren’t stopped by the authorities. Well: how do you close a huge campus? And how do you empty it of the thousands drinking there once they’re in? Maybe the army would do the trick, as I doubt the police could do that… But even Franco might have hesitated to call them. Actually our Rector is very reluctant to calling in the ‘mossos’ (the local Catalan police), as their necessary presence three years ago to stop the occupation of our Facultat de Filosofia i Lletres led to very nasty incidents. I sympathise with her plea, but the more lenient we are with these barbarians (I mean the students and non-students at the wild party, not the ‘mossos’) the more power they earn over the civilised members of our community which, of course, includes very many civilised students. Hopefully, they are the (invisible) majority and we need them to speak up now.


  1. If the state pays 90% of the fees at public universities, it means that ALL students get a scholarship (an implicit one) covering 90% of their expenditure. Maybe this is a kind of luxury we cannot afford without borrowing money from the Germans (or suppressing the provinces, or cutting the expediture on public health, or whatever). And maybe it has a nasty side effect, too, in making students less conscious about public money and public institutions (which are, after all “for free”). Perhaps getting them to pay a higher proportion of their fees, unless they qualify for a REAL scholarship, would be more reasonable, and a more intelligent use of public funding.

  2. Yes, but what’s a real scholarship? Being myself from a working class family, and having had access to university through government grants (later I worked), I’m quite worried that the crisis will very negatively affect the poorer students. I don’t know how a country in dire need of talent can afford to lose so many brains to the crisis. And we’re back to the 1980s with the famous brain drain that seemed gone for good.

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