For the second time this year, Sussex University and Birmingham University have seen students occupy buildings on campus in protest against privatisation, outsourcing, lack of democracy, and tuition fees. The Sussex occupation will soon enter its fifth day, however, the students occupying the Aston Webb building in Birmingham have been forcibly evicted by the police and bailiffs, earlier today.
Over forty students are into the fourth day of an occupation of a building (Bramber House) at Sussex University, protesting against working practices at the university and against what they claim is the ‘privatisation’ of university services. Catering services are being sold off to a private company who are then seeing their terms and conditions stripped.
They have been backed by a letter signed by more than 100 academics who have taken issue with the university bosses wasting £81,000 in solicitor’s fees earlier this year when trying to evict previous occupiers. Signatories to the letter state that – “We consider their actions – and ours nest Tuesday – to be part of a broader struggle.”
In a statement released by the students, they said that:
“Privatisation and marketisation have been forced upon students and staff due to the ideological government policy of austerity which is intentionally underfunding higher education.
Since catering was privatised, we have seen all new staff employed on worse working conditions than the transferred Sussex staff. They have had sick pay and holiday pay removed and they have to work 48 hours to get overtime pay, compared to 36.5 hours for transferred staff.
All attempts to engage in meaningful dialogue over this issue have been rejected or pacified…We remain open and interested in dialogue with the university and we would like to meet with management to address our demands without preconditions.”
In a statement from the university, toadying lickspittle, John Duffy, said that:
“The occupation was being staged by the same minority of students who were involved in the occupation earlier this year. Those undertaking this disruptive activity are a very small number of students out of a community of 15,000 people.”
The ‘Defend Education’ group has been occupying the Aston Webb building at Birmingham University throughout the week. They are protesting against a lack of democracy and tuition fees. They released the following statement:
“Defend Education believes that staff and students should have more power in every level of university decision making. Currently a small class of senior managers benefit disproportionately from the fees and work of staff and students. They have total unaccountable power to harm our interests within the university and lobby against our interests outside it.”
The university claim that the occupiers are not representative of the rest of the students, citing the non-participation of the several thousand students on campus. Presumably they must love paying tuition fees then?
The university bosses have been seeking a solution to the occupation through the courts, and unfortunately today they got their wish, and released the following statement:
“Regrettably, as a last resort, the university went to court to obtain possession of the building. The court order was carried out and the Senate Chamber and surrounding area have been returned to the university. Their action has caused disruption to more than 4,000 students by preventing them from accessing parts of the building used for teaching, prevented disabled staff and students from accessing the first floor of Aston Webb and prevented staff from leaving their offices. It has also raised significant safety issues for the occupiers themselves who have locked fire exits and barricaded staircases.”
At around 7am Police and bailiffs forced their way into the occupied buildings and removed the students, fortunately nobody was arrested. The eviction is described here via the occupier’s website:
“Security, police and bailiffs entered the occupation at 7am, by taking down the barricade on the main staircase with heavy cutting tools. The students inside retreated to the senate chamber, linked arms and blocking the doors. Bailiffs attacked and forced their way through the students linking arms, eventually moving into the occupation. The students were reading their rights. Still after that, students passively resisted removal, before leaving the occupation peacefully as a group later. Few students were handled roughly by University Security.”
On her eviction, one of the occupiers said that:
“It was incredibly disappointing and frustrating to see my own university pay thousands of pounds to obtain court orders in order to remove what was a peaceful protest by concerned students, instead of simply engaging with them.”
The university has also taken out a court injunction to stop any further occupations from taking place “without its permission”…. Not sure how that works!