Monday, 21 March 2011
The student estate
It was the age of the student. Even though student radicals were a minority even in the universities, they were loud. The New Left voice could be heard in the rhetoric of Labor politicians in State and Federal parliaments. Opposition to Vietnam – a signature issue for student protest – was gaining strength throughout Australian society. That students had been right in this instance encouraged a broader invitation to students to take a place in the public sphere. “The conscience of society” was the soon-to-become cliché. In Britain, Ashby and Anderson called them the ‘student estate’, articulating for young university scholars a unique structural position in democracy. This role separated students from the institutional protectionism and pragmatic preoccupations of the first and second estates and even from the adult worries of the third. The student estate drew on youthful fervour and flexible, innovative thinking fuelled by rigorous intellectual training. For society, students could display issues of the day in a new light; they could offer different angles of analysis and articulate concerns that went beyond immediate or selfish goals. Students earned a bad name for themselves in the 1960s and 1970s to be sure: but there were also many who welcomed their assertion of this civic role.