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Student Power in the Middle Ages

Far from being a recent development, student control was a factor in the early growth of the university as an institution argues Alan B. Cobban.

Medieval manuscript showing a meeting of doctors at the University of Paris.Student power is virtually coeval with the emergence of the medieval universities. In southern Europe it became endemic, in one form or another, for about 200 years. The motives that gave rise to medieval student rebellion find a distant echo in the student scene of the 1960s and 1970s. But there are important dissimilarities and it would be unhistorical to press analogies too far. Medieval students had, for the most part, a highly utilitarian view of the university as an institution of direct community relevance that might well be regarded as too narrowly conceived by a large proportion of present-day students and staff. The priority of educational utility conditioned students into accepting innately conservative attitudes vis-a-vis the Establishment. Revolutionary student activity in the medieval situation was rarely directed against the prevailing order of things: it seems to have been either a defence mechanism or was channelled towards the winning of greater student participation in university structures.

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