The student movement is starting to show radicalisation and growing discontent towards Westminster politics once again.
This follows the November 19th student demonstration in London on and, more recently, a brutal police attack on peaceful protesters at Warwick University.
On December 3rd, around 20 Warwick students came together to participate in a day of action for free education. Students were carrying out a sit-in protest in front of the offices of the Vice-Chancellor. All they were doing was sitting. This peaceful protest was interrupted by the police, some of whom were riot police equipped with Tasers and CS spray – which they didn’t hesitate to use.
Police intervention wasn’t something that the students were expecting to face at that time and when police cars arrived on campus they were told that it was concerning an unrelated cause. However, at a later stage it became clear that university management had made the call to the police when, all of a sudden the students were physically attacked – CS gas was used on more than ten students, tasers were used to threaten the students. Three students were arrested.
This was not the only protest going on in the UK. There were similar protests in Lancaster, Sheffield, East Anglia, Sussex, Manchester, and Cambridge.
With the radicalisation that took place in Scotland at the referendum there is a change in consciousness of people in general throughout the UK and this radicalisation shows its presence through protests like these or through student march in London in November against the rise in tuition fees and cuts and the TUC demonstration against low pay and zero hour contracts which effect young people in particular.
The day after this brutal attack another protest called “Cops off Campus”, similar to one which the University of London Union last year was held in the University of Warwick, with students from all around the UK attending, reaching over 1,000 people. On the same day they released their demands. When we take a closer look to what they are trying to achieve we can clearly see that the same problems are being faced in the University of Southampton too:
- “…we ask that Nigel Thrift (Vice Chancellor at Warwick) and the University management pledge their commitment to free education as a right for all, and for Nigel Thrift to stop advocating for £16,000 fees…”
Negotiations for the £9,000 tuition fee cap’s removal in universities like Oxford and Cambridge will directly affect our university due to its membership in the Russell Group.
As a result tuition fees may be raised to even higher levels.
- “Warwick University must also work with students and communities who are suffering from racism, classism, sexism, ableism, heteronormativity, transphobia and all systems of oppression to increase and widen participation of all people in higher education. In practical terms this includes (but is not limited to) opposing the scrapping of the disability student allowance; creating more scholarships and bursaries; waiving fees and providing funding for refugees and asylum seekers; and creating fairer working conditions for workers on campus.”
When last year UCU carried out an hour long strike lecturers lost their day’s pay. In universities like LSE, Leeds and UCL this money was donated to student hardship fund.
At the time, I sent an e-mail asking our university to consider this action and I didn’t receive any response. This shows that the university management is not interested in this at all.
Moreover, even our student union from time to time acts as a barrier for progressive changes. During the last Student Council the Feminist Society put forward a motion supporting pro-choice campaign which the council failed to vote on. Another example is the recent marking and assessment boycott led by UCU, which SUSU failed to support regardless of the fact that, as students, we will soon enter the workforce (if we did not already) and will face the same very difficult conditions faced by all workers.
Another demand from Warwick students reflects very closely the situation within the University of Southampton:
- “The University [Warwick] must abolish fees and lower the costs of being a student here, especially in terms of extortionate food and accommodation, Warwick Sport and other living costs.”
In fact people who have attended University of Southampton for a while will probably have realized that the food prices are increasing every year, especially in the ever popular ‘Piazza’. Yet, students do not receive a corresponding rise in grants.
Night buses, which is a monopoly in transportation, is another problem. This description is taken directly from Unilink webpage on night buses: “Single tickets cost just £2.50 for any journey. Key cards are not valid on nightbus services.” Night buses run on Fridays and Saturdays when students go out and need a safe transportation much more than any other time of the day of the week, and, at that important time tickets are more expensive!
So, going back to Warwick’s demands
- “We are concerned by the continuing corporate partnerships which are increasingly gaining a voice, visibility and control on our campus, whilst at the same time student voices are being silenced. Therefore we demand complete transparency in terms of the corporate interests that are invested in our education, and for Warwick to publish this information. We want to know where the money is going and whose interests are being represented – corporations’ or students’?”
Anyone who spends a bit of time round the red brick area can come across the promotion of police and army, who distribute free bottles of water. Also when the companies involved in career’s fair are researched in depth it can be seen that majority of them are related with arm and defence in one way or another- BAE Systems and Atkins taking the lead.
Even though the links between university and companies may not be clear, the link is strong enough that during two hour law lecture of second year Engineerings’ Bentley is able to give a presentation on their company for the first hour. Students are concerned about the lack of transparency in the way the University carries out its business.
Green Action at UoS has joined a city wide divestment campaign demanding the university and Vice Chancellor Don Nutbeam to pull out its investment and partnership with any fossil fuel companies and shift to a more positive, ethical investment.
One activists from this campaign said: “we want them (University) to start giving students opportunities to meet ethical employers at careers fairs. We are hoping to gather momentum with people power that can publicly share the university into divestment!”.
The Soton Marxist has recently launched a campaign “Justice for Blacklisted workers” in support of construction industry workers. This is a UK-wide campaign led by the Marxist Students Federation. Students across the country are putting forward motions to their Student Unions demanding that their University boycott those companies that have used blacklisting as a measure to exclude workers that were part of unions campaigning and banning shop-stewards and health and safety officers from the sites.
This campaign is particularly important as it unites the workers and the students – something that is vital for the student movement to go forward – in the struggle for better employment practices which will benefit us as well when (or if!) we enter the workforce.
Clearly a larger number of students are becoming more active within the university, taking up and campaigning on various issues. However we are often faced with a brick wall on the part of University management and are made to jump through hoops when dealing with SUSU.
It is time for all the active students of the University to get together and, on the back of the renewed energy of the student movement, start campaigning together for free education and for a SUSU that truly reflects the interests of the majority of students.