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Beard warns over Cambridge divide

The town versus gown divide in Cambridge has grown in recent decades as the university is "closed off" from the general public, classicist Mary Beard has warned.

The classics professor and TV presenter made the claim as she wrote to dismiss myths surrounding the life of a Cambridge don.

In an article for the Cambridge News, Prof Beard moved to debunk the image of dons as "port-swilling freeloaders" but expressed concerns about low pay for junior staff and university buildings being closed off to the public.

She wrote: "The division of 'town' and 'gown' has grown in some ways more obvious over the 30 years I have lived here as a resident, rather than as a student.

"Increasing (and understandable) concerns with security have meant that more college buildings, playing fields and through-ways are open only to those with an electronic uni card.

"My own adult kids, when they visit, go through the centre of town and now complain about how much of the place seems cut off to them."

She added that in some case residents were allowed access but this was not well publicised, making the city "like a two-party town".

There were picket lines at the University of Cambridge last year as members of the Unison union highlighted the plight of some 4,000 staff at universities across the country who are paid below the living wage.

A recent Freedom of Information request by student group the Cambridge Living Wage Campaign found that more than 1,000 members of staff across the university and its colleges were being paid less than £7.65 per hour.

Prof Beard said: "My own personal view - and there are lots of others, and this isn't 'official' - is that there is a real wages problem.

"I am reasonably senior in the university. I work very hard and I am decently paid for that hard work.

"But I think that many of my junior colleagues and support staff are not."

The professor, who was the first member of her family to get a university degree, went on to describe how her typical working week invovles 13 hours a day, six and a half days a week as she balances teaching commitments with developing theories and writing books.

She added that the idea of dons taking six-month holidays and spending afternoons punting on the river were "myths".

"Overall, I'd like to think that we could get rid of this myth of Cambridge University as a port-swilling load of old men (and I mean 'men'), or just leave it to the movies," Prof Beard wrote.


From Belfast Telegraph