New Wave of UK University Occupations

Students at London Met are demonstrating against huge course cuts

As two million public sector workers struck around the country on Wednesday, many students were either preparing to launch occupations, or digging in for the duration. A day of action had been called by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts for 23rd November, but some students delayed their occupations until on or around the 30th, in a gesture of solidarity with those fighting pension cuts. This fellow feeling – plus a noticeable radicalisation in the demands issued by students – represents a significant step forward from the winter 2010 occupations. But solidarity has to become a practical reality if either group are to significantly advance their respective causes.

At the time of writing, there are at least twenty-two campus occupations – all of which have been launched over the past fortnight. They last few days have seen Sheffield, Liverpool, Royal Holloway, Brighton and Essex added to the list, although unfortunately the Liverpool action came to a premature end yesterday, due to access problems.

The demise of the Liverpool demonstration is a particular disappointment because their list of demands was perhaps the most radical of any currently being put forward. They were:

1. To publicly condemn the White Paper for Higher Education and call for it to be withdrawn
2. To guarantee no course closures
3. To guarantee no job cuts and no adverse changes to staff terms and conditions
4. To provide bursaries for all students who need them – not fee waivers
5. To guarantee no cuts to library, student support or learning resources
6. To guarantee no cuts to access schemes or foundation courses
7. To guarantee that the university will remain a public and a not-for-profit body
8. To reverse the increase in tuition fees
9. To have complete transparency of corporate funding of the university (ie. BAE).
10. To allow all students to have access to the occupied space.

In short – apart from the fact that number 8 seems to allow for the previous level of tuition fees – these demands are a total rejection of the current higher education agenda, and they therefore pick a very definite fight with the government and all major political parties. Arguably, they could not be achieved outside of revolution – which requires the leadership of the labour force. No doubt this radicalisation can be largely attributed to the impact of the 2011’s social movements – Arab spring, Occupy X, and now the public sector strike.

It is to be hoped that many of the occupations can last into the new year, and successfully negotiate their way through the holiday period. But more than mere survival, they need to make links both with the non-academic Occupies and – much more importantly – workers in struggle. Only then can the occupied university buildings become genuine bases for social change.

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