Students at Sussex University in Southeast England came into violent conflict with riot cops on Wednesday (3rd March) as they occupied the executive nerve centre of their university. Several weeks in the planning by Stop the Cuts campaign in association with the university's Anarchist Society, 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 (videos of the action). 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 (with occupation of vice-chancellor's office at Westminster university).
Following the occupation of Sussex House 6 students have now been arbitrarily suspended and excluded. Additionally, the university has been granted a High Court injunction banning people from “entering” or “remaining” on campus without the university’s prior written consent. (Sign the e-petition against the suspension !)
Members of UCU, the university's lecturer union, have today announced that they will be out on strike on Thursday 18 March.
3rd March's Action 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.
LAST UPDATES FROM INDYMEDIA UK
*At least five Sussex University students have been indefinitely suspended following the peaceful occupation of Sussex House, the main university administration building, on Wednesday 3rd March. The Vice-Chancellor has overruled the normal disciplinary procedure and suspended the students before presenting them with any evidence of their alleged offences or giving them any opportunity to make their case. The students have been barred from entering campus and their access to computer facilities withdrawn. This follows the heavy-handed response to the protest by police, who beat back students using dogs, batons and CS spray at the behest of University management These are completely disproportionate attempts to silence peaceful protest on campus. The University of Sussex students – dubbed “The Sussex Six” – could now face expulsion after more than 50 protesters stormed Sussex House, at the Falmer campus, on Wednesday. But the university’s “hardline” response to the demonstration against plans to cut 115 jobs has been slammed by critics who warned it would only inflame the situation. The university was granted a High Court injunction banning people from “entering” or “remaining” on campus without the university’s prior written consent.
*Members of UCU, the lecturers’ union at the University of Sussex have today announced that they will be out on strike on Thursday 18 March. At a packed emergency general meeting, they unanimously passed a motion that called for the strike action in response to the university’s refusal to agree to talks or remove the threat of compulsory redundancies.Tom Wills, University of Sussex Students’ Union (USSU) president, said: ‘We are right behind Sussex staff and the principled stand they are taking in defence of their jobs and our education. We understand that strike action by staff may be the key to winning this battle and we will do everything we can to support it. We will hold university management responsible for disruption to our education resulting from the strike – but moreover we will hold management responsible for the devastation that will be wrought on our education if they succeed in pushing through their cuts proposals.’