Defend Education Birmingham: Statement on the Occupation
We are occupying a large part of the Aston Webb Building, which includes the Vice-Chancellor’s and Senior Management’s offices, Telecommunications and the Senate Chamber in order to demand the right to free education, to protest and to housing. We are here in defiance of management’s tactics to try to suppress student protest through the use of disciplinaries, suspensions and injunctions. The areas we are occupying also play a key role in the corporatisation of our university which sees power concentrated in the hands of the few, education treated as a commodity and our institution become more like a business.
We condemn the university management for the actions they have taken against the right to protest and the suspension of Kelly Rogers and Simon Furse. All people should be able to freely express their discontent and students are no exception. The university is supposed to be a stronghold for free-speech and dissent. However, is it clear that the University of Birmingham does not recognise this human right and actively seeks to curtail it.
Yesterday, Kelly and Simon were supposed to have their appeal. Despite its postponement, we wanted to make it clear that we have not forgotten this injustice. Their case is an example of the extreme victimisation that this university will deploy in order to crush its student body. They were both singled out against a backdrop of nationwide occupations and are the only students in the country to have been suspended for 9 months since before 2010. Only Kelly and Simon were suspended despite a hundred or so other students also being involved. A third student, Hattie Craig, is not allowed to break any university regulation under threat of suspension for 6 months. The university is trying to make an example of them to intimidate other students by punishing them. This behaviour is a draconian response to an otherwise peaceful protest. This affront to democracy puts the University of Birmingham to shame and we will not let them succeed in preventing students from protesting for a better, fairer education for all.
We advocate for an education system which is free, democratic and accessible. As it stands, even basic rights like that to education, housing and protest are not being met. As such, we demand:
1. That David Eastwood and the University of Birmingham should publicly take back their position that fees should be increased and that bursaries should be cut. Instead, they should lobby the government for education to be free, and for the implementation of living grants
2. That a body should be set up made up of elected students, academic staff, and support staff. This should have ultimate oversight over the restructuring of departments, the University’s investment decisions, and its lobbying positions
3. That every student is offered accommodation which does not exceed the amount they receive in loans and grants
4. That the university does not make a profit (or “surplus”) from the fees it charges for accommodation
5. The reinstatement of Simon Furse and Kelly Rogers
6. The lifting of the onerous and inhibitive restrictions on Hattie Craig
7. That the University recognises occupations as a legitimate form of protest, with a long and illustrious history
8. That the University reforms its disciplinary procedures to include sentencing guidelines, a right for students to receive legal representation and a requirement that allegations be proved beyond reasonable doubt, instead of on the balance of probabilities
Students at the University of Birmingham are in occupation
STUDENT ACTIVISTS OCCUPY BUILDING AT THE UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM
The students have issued the following demands:
- That Kelly Rogers and Simon Furse are reinstated with immediate effect, with no further sanctions applied.
- That Hattie Craig has the onerous and inhibitive restrictions on her activity at the University of Birmingham lifted, with no further sanctions applied.
- That the University of Birmingham recognises occupations as a legitimate form of protest, with a long and lustrous history, that should be accommodated by its Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech.
- That the University of Birmingham reforms its disciplinary procedures to include: the right for students to receive legal representation, criteria of proven beyond reasonable doubt instead of the balance of probabilities, and sentencing guidelines. Additionally they should remove the following unacceptably ambiguous disciplinary violations: (g) misuse or unauthorised use of university premises, (q) bringing the university into disrepute, and (m) leafleting.
- That the University enters into negotiations in good faith with Defend Education Birmingham over its continuing demands.
This protest follows the crackdown on student dissent seen not just in Birmingham but nationwide. Two Birmingham students, Simon Furse and Kelly Rogers, were suspended last week for their alleged roles in an occupation of the Senate Chamber. The same nine month long disciplinary process imposed a sixth month suspended sentence to former Guild Vice President Education Hattie Craig. This effectively bans her from exercising her democratic right to dissent on campus. This year at the University of Birmingham, there have been two occupations with similar demands, centring around the Living Wage for cleaners – which has now been won – and the privatisation of the university.
Cracking down on students is nothing new at Birmingham: at a demonstration on January 29, hundreds of protesters from across the country were kettled by police and university security for a several hours in freezing conditions. A number were arrested and held for more than 24 hours in custody and then placed on bail conditions which prevented them from attending university or associating with fellow student activists. The University then suspended six of the arrested protesters with no process or right of appeal, though they were later reinstated.
One of the occupiers commented: “Universities have historically been radical places where learning and dissent went hand in hand. Our higher education system is so far removed from this that universities have become nothing more than paper-pushing, draconian institutions that care nothing for the welfare of their students.” Another said, “Simon, Kelly and Hattie are being persecuted for exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech; we have to act before this becomes the norm not just in Birmingham, but nationwide.”
Twitter: @DefendEdBrum, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/defendeducationbrum