Students at Sussex University came into violent conflict with riot cops on Wednesday (3rd) as they occupied the executive nerve centre of their university. Several weeks in the planning by Stop the Cuts campaign, around 80 students rushed the 'fortified' Sussex House building with a supporting demo outside of around 300 people, all in protest against the proposed cuts to university funding. The occupation was part of a national day of action, called against £950m of government cuts to higher education announced on February 1st. There were also actions in Norwich, Leeds and London.Links: Indymedia Coverage:1 |2 |3 | 4
Videos of the protests | Stop the Cuts – Defend Sussex
The day started at 12pm with an anti-cuts carnival in the main square of the campus, with demonstrators togged up in animal masks – a nod to the last occupation of Sussex House after which senior management branded students as behaving like 'animals' (an occupation which also lead to Sussex house being made 'occupation proof' with a multitude of complex security systems). Students then rushed the building, managing to occupy the floor that had all of the Vice Chancellor Executive Group offices.
Cops arrived on the scene within 15 minutes, complete with dogs, riot gear and an Evidence Gathering unit. Cue a mad rush of bodies, and police ended up being kept at bay with critical mass. In the words of one participant, “F*cking hell – it's all batons and dogs here”.
Inside, most staff left of their own accord, although the Head of Security, Roger Morgan (named by our source as a “complete c**t”) and another uni bigwig locked themselves in an office and refused to leave without a police escort as they were 'too intimidated' to leave (as opposed to administrators and secretaries who seemed fully able to muster the courage to walk down a flight of stairs).
While this was going on protesters managed to find some very juicy documents including some dodgy expense records (like a £75 dinner and holiday flight for an execs' wives and an £1800 hotel bill), and a letter from Peter Mandelson to the Vice Chancellor about the rise of 'domestic extremism' in the university. Copies have been taken and should be released into the public domain soon.
Halfway through the occupation activists attempted to rush the building and break through the lines of police – an action that resulted in batons being pulled out and things turning nasty – two arrests were made on suspicion of assaulting a police officer and both are still custody.
After the failed rush, a vote was held inside the building about whether the occupiers should continue or leave voluntarily, resulting in a majority ballot to go whilst still having the upper hand. The SWP opened the doors and the students left.
The demo was held in solidarity with ATL (Teachers' and Lecturers' Union) that had voted in favour of strike action the same day. One source called the action he had seen “the most effective bit of direct action seen on campus”.
Current plans by University senior management include massive job losses and entire areas are facing the axe, despite committing themselves to spending £112 million on new buildings (not to mention pay hikes for the senior management). The university found itself with a £3 million shortfall, which it is trying to rectify by wildly slashing any area of the university that doesn't fit with its 'New Strategic Vision.'
Respected academics are facing forced redundancy, successful degree courses are due to be arbitrarily cancelled if management gets its way. The history department is being 'made more popular' as the process has been euphemistically described by management blurb. This means cutting all European/world history before 1900, and all British history pre-1700, with several redundancies. The children's crèche, which had been recently rated in an Ofsted inspection as 'outstanding' and currently serves the needs of 62 kids. The university reckons it can save £5million with this act of kiddie (service) snatching. Meanwhile degrees in Human Sciences are set to go, and modern languages, engineering, and linguistics are all under threat. Nearly half the informatics dept is set to go, with 14 redundancies in the pipeline. The sexual health centre UNISEX set to go too.
The university, which went on an unsustainable, reckless spending binge during the boom times when rich foreign students were flocking to Blighty to study and government subsidies to higher education seemed unending, has found itself shackled with PFI deals. Rather than respond rationally, it appears that the management has just taken a look at any course that has been perceived to be less profitable and taken the knife to them. It's worth noting that neighbouring Brighton University (hardly a hotbed of firebrand radicalism) which has traditionally underspent and not been quite so keen on the latest corporate faddishness, isn't planning any job losses or major cuts.
*As well as action in Sussex, students from the University of Westminster stormed the boardroom of their uni on Monday (1st) and confronted their Vice Chancellor, Geoffrey Pett, about the proposed 10% cuts in jobs. After receiving unsatisfactory answers, they occupied the Vice Chancellor's office to protest against the increasing fees and hefty management salaries, while teaching time decreases and class size grows by the term.
*See Indymedia London for more info on the Westminster occupation
*To show solidarity with the teachers and lecturers currently facing hefty job cuts, join the March for Jobs this Saturday (6th) in Brighton. Meet at The Level at 12pm.
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