Disrupting rag

Many books and film portray students as wealthy, careless young men. For example, Bertie Wooster, a character who appears in the popular novels of P. G. Wodehouse, attended Magdalen College, Oxford. As the stories have appeared on the radio, and in films and been televised his antics on boat race night will be familiar to many.  However, such representations are only part of the story. This film, funded by Student Volunteering charity, ‘Student Hubs’ illustrates some of the ideas about students which were perpetuated in the popular media through a combination of archival footage and animated sequences. Students are shown to engage in a wide variety of activities (supporting the unemployed on camps for example) but as well as countering some of the Brideshead Revisited cliches about students’ contribution to society, it also indicates how those myths have been maintained. While much of the film deals with a period prior to the opening of the OU some of the leisure time activities of conventional students were adapted by OU students. Although the intention was not to raise money for charity a number of summer schools featured comic songs and sketches performed by staff and students. However, in many ways the OU helped to change expectations about the role of students in the wider society. In the film, Educating Rita (not the play which is different in a number of ways) the following exchange takes place between the eponymous 26 year hairdresser and part-time OU student, Rita, and a unnamed character, dressed in a way conventionally associated with being a conventional student at a conventional university. The actor appears to be reading a textbook.

Rita: You’re a student, aren’t you?

Student: Yes.

Rita: So am I

Rita’s pleasure at this exchange is perhaps heightened by her flouting of expectations, her cutting across the dress codes and behavioural norms associated with students. She does not sport Oxford bags or wear a scarf with long, not short, stripes and yet she studies. The disruptive influence of the OU was such that it was open to people who would not otherwise have read for degrees and it did not expect those adults to conform to stereotypes associated with wealthy young men. It offered students different opportunities to engage with the wider society and to enjoy themselves which were not based within the conventional frameworks of patronage and philanthropy favoured by those making the Pathe News footage.

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