Student Occupations Are Spreading!

Students demonstrate outside the London School of Economics where they have been occupying since March 17
Students demonstrate outside the London School of Economics where they have been occupying since March 17

STUDENT occupations are spreading!

Students have occupied the London School of Economics on March since Tuesday March 17 demanding free university education for all.

By Thursday March 19th students at the University of the Arts London occupied Central St. Martins College in North London against the management’s decision to cut 800 places from their Foundation courses.

Both UK occupations have been inspired by the occupation of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), which has been occupied since February 25.

Students joined by their professors occupied one of the University of Amsterdam’s buildings, after the university management announced its decision to close down several language studies courses.

In Amsterdam, the students were also occupying in protest at huge accommodation prices at the student dorms and against the university’s business model, namely, that the university is run as a business, and not as a educational facility, something that both the UK occupations also demand.

In a Statement of their aims, Occupy LSE said: ‘We join the ongoing struggles in the UK, Europe and the world to reject this system that has changed not only our education but our entire society.

‘From the occupations in Sheffield, Warwick, Birmingham and Oxford, to the ongoing collective takeover of the University of Amsterdam– students have made clear that the current system simply cannot continue.

‘We are not alone in this struggle.’

In a statement entitled ‘Why we have occupied’ the students at the University of Arts London wrote:

‘On the 16 March, news was spread amongst University of the Arts London (UAL) students that management had decided to cut over 800 places on their Foundation courses.

‘Three days later, students and SUARTS sabbs (student union reps) are occupying management rooms at Central St Martins, King’s Cross in a peaceful yet poignant protest.

‘Foundation courses in the arts provide students with a year in which to further their education, opportunities and creative development.

‘These courses are free for Home students aged 19 and under.

‘As such, they remain one of the last areas in which students can be creatively expressive, pushing the boundaries without the heavy weight of student debt hanging over their heads.

‘The decision to dramatically cut places on Foundation courses follows news that the government is cutting the budget for Further Education (under which Foundation courses fall). The University College Union (UCU) estimates that this cut, alongside the 35% cut to the Adult Skills Budget, could lead to a loss of 400,000 students studying at college.

‘By cutting funding for Further Education, and by cutting places on Foundation courses, both the government and UAL are once again undermining and devaluing student’s access and rights to a free education.

‘On top of this, a large number of teaching positions will be scrapped, meaning staff now face redundancies. UAL is making money from Foundation courses, just elsewhere.

‘With its new “UAL Awarding Body”, the institution accredits courses in a number of colleges across the UK in exchange for funnelling those students on to HE courses (where the real money is!)

‘This represents the marketisation of education, where the UAL brand can be outsourced as an income stream.

‘Thus, demand #1: No cuts to foundation courses

‘The notion that the university can’t afford to maintain the 800 courses they’re cutting becomes a cheap argument when you consider the Vice Chancellor of UAL’s six-figure salary, and the £200m cost for Central St. Martins’ new “campus”.

‘It doesn’t take a London School of Economics student to see that a simple reshuffle of funds might solve some of the problem. ‘(Coincidentally, LSE students have also been in occupation for the last few days – solidarity!)

‘And so, Demand #2: Democratise our university

‘We want greater transparency on all decision making processes at UAL, as well as total financial transparency.

‘This year, it was quietly released that the budget for Widening Participation, the programme at UAL which works towards creating better access to arts education for people from working class backgrounds, is being cut by £500k.

‘This, combined with the cutting of places on Foundation courses which provide one of the few areas in which the “attainment” gap for Black students does not exist, mean that access to arts education for students from diverse backgrounds is diminished.

‘This leads us to Demand #3: No institutional racism

‘While our demands and concerns are centred on our anger and frustration with the institution of UAL, our fight is part of the larger struggle. Under this Conservative-led government; undergraduate fees have tripled for Home/EU students, our loans have been privatised, school curriculums have been narrowed, and bills have passed which require lecturers to report students who express “radical” views.

‘Demand #4: Free education

‘The building in which we are occupying epitomises the notion that our university now feels and behaves more like a business than an art school.

‘We are sitting in a fish-bowl room, with floor-to-ceiling windows, round glass conference table and chrome swivel chairs. UAL rents this building from Argent, a property developer who “make places for people”.

‘Argent’s owner is one of the major donors to the Conservative Party. Their security, wearing the infamous red beanie hats branded with “King’s Cross” have already notified the police, and are circling the site with sniffer dogs.

‘So, Demand #5: We have the right to protest

‘This university should first and foremost be an establishment for education, not for money-making. Students should have the right not only to move in and out of this occupation as they wish, but should always have free access to the university buildings.

‘The cuts to over 800 placements on Foundation courses at UAL without any student consultation is unacceptable. But this forms just one of the issues students and education staff are facing and fighting against.

‘We need to make a stand against privatisation, nepotism, commodification of education and lack of diversity now.’

A Statement from the occupation at the London School of Economics (LSE) said: ‘We have have occupied the Vera Anstey Suite, the central meeting room of the university administration, to demand a change to the current university system.

‘LSE is the epitome of the neoliberal university. Universities are increasingly implementing the privatised, profit-driven, and bureaucratic “business model” of higher education, which locks students into huge debts and turns the university into a degree-factory and students into consumers.

‘LSE has become the model for the transformation of the other university systems in Britain and beyond. Massive indebtedness, market-driven benchmarks, and subordination to corporate interests have deeply perverted what we think university and education should be about.

‘We demand an education that is liberating – which does not have a price tag. We want a university run by students, lecturers and workers.

‘When a University becomes a business the whole of student life is transformed. When a university is more concerned with its image, its marketability and the “added value” of its degrees, the student is no longer a student – they become a commodity and education becomes a service.

‘Institutional sexism and racism, as well as conditions of work for staff and lecturers, becomes a distraction for an institution geared to profit.’

These are the current demands of the LSE occupation:

1 Free and universally accessible education not geared to making profit

• We demand that the management of LSE lobby the government to scrap tuition fees for both domestic and international students.

2 Workers’ Rights

• In solidarity with the LSE workers, we demand real job security, an end to zero-hour contracts, fair remuneration and a drastic reduction in the gap between the highest and lowest paid employees.

3 Genuine University Democracy

• We demand a student-staff council, directly elected by students and academic and non-academic staff, responsible for making all managerial decisions of the institution.

4 Divestment

• We demand that the school cuts its ties to exploitative and destructive organisations, such as those involved in wars, military occupations and the destruction of the planet.

This includes but is not limited to immediate divestment from the fossil fuel industry and from all companies which make a profit from the Israeli state’s occupation of Palestine.

5 Liberation

• We demand that LSE changes its harassment policy, and to have zero tolerance to harassment.

• We demand that LSE does not implement the Counter Terrorism Bill that criminalises dissent, particularly targeting Muslim students and staff.

• We demand that the police are not allowed on campus.

• We demand that LSE becomes a liberated space free of racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia and religious discrimination.

• We demand that the school immediately reinstates the old ethics code and makes it legally binding, in line with the recently passed SU motion.

• We demand that the school ensures the security and equality of international students, particularly with regards to their precarious visa status, and fully include them in our project for a free university.