'We only have 15 Socialist Workers'

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The Independent Online
In the Seventies, Essex University was a hot-bed of political radicalism. Students had mass sit-ins, mounted noisy protests and locked themselves in the Vice-Chancellor's office to complain about campus rent rises.

Some 25 years on, its undergraduates are generally politically apathetic and more interested in clothes than grant cuts, according to 22-year-old Nicola Mends, vice president of communications for the university's Students' Union.

"Today's students like smart shirts and the Spice Girls. They concentrate on getting good degrees and a well-paid job, rather than campaigning," she said.

"The problem is, if you devote time to politics your degree suffers. Students are not prepared to do that because there are so many graduates on the job market now.

"I think we are a lot more mainstream now. I think we only have 15 Socialist Worker members in the entire university."

More than half the university's 6,000 students have personal computers, and approximately 75 per cent have a personal Internet connection.

Ms Mends said: "New technology is a big part of student life now. Some departments even put their lecture notes on the Web, and because all our essays have to be typed, computers are a necessity."

Neil Rodel, 22, an information business system technology student, said: "A lot of students use mobile phones for incoming calls because rooms in halls of residence don't have phone sockets.

"We would all like a decent job with a decent salary, but if the prospects are good, I would settle for less than pounds 16,000 a year. I'm not that interested in material things any more, but I still like money. I guess it's because we are Thatcher's children."

Jim Jepp, 26, one of Essex's solitary Socialist Workers, said: "Some students are very wealthy, others are very poor. I think students are more interested in material things because they have less money to spend on them.

"In the 70s, student grants were in line with the cost of living, so perhaps material goods were of less consequence because they were easier to come by."