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  • Published in Education

Keeping the police off campus means building the biggest possible movement against the attack on education, and against austerity

Students, lecturers and trade unionists from across London universities and beyond, including Brighton, Sussex, Oxford and other universities, gathered at a lively protest outside ULU today. The protest comes after outrage over heavy-handed policing and 38 arrests at last Thursday’s protest and the occupation of Senate House last Wednesday.

This is the first protest since the University of London issued an injunction banning “occupational protest action” on campus for 6 months, including occupations and protests by students. More than 2,000 people marched from ULU, around Senate House, past the Institute of Education and to SOAS.

The demonstration ended with a mass sit-in outside SOAS, and further protests outside the inquest of Mark Duggan and UCEA, the body responsible for negotiating lecturers’ pay. The numbers on the streets today, and the involvement of staff and students, ensured the police stayed away.

Reminiscent of the student revolt in 2010, the occupation of Senate House was organised in protest against the privatisation of the student loan book, the planned closure of ULU, in solidarity with cleaners fighting for decent pay and pensions, and in solidarity with lecturers, who have been on strike twice in the past month in response to a 13% pay cut since 2009.

The presence of police on campus and the level of police brutality over the past week have clearly struck a chord amongst both students and staff, but questions are also being asked about the state of higher education and what kind of action is needed to defend education.

Ben Gray from Queen Mary said, “I think there’s no need for the police on campus. The presence of police is about intimidation and the criminalisation of dissent.  We see it at Queen Mary all the time. The Tories are selling off the student loan book and they’re using the police to prevent students from protesting against the privatisation of our education.”

Last night at SOAS, over 300 students and staff organised an open meeting to discuss the police presence on campus. There was much debate and discussion, but there was consensus that any movement against the police and in defence of education needs to involve the widest possible layers of people.

Mya Pope-Weidemann, a student at SOAS, said “Today was a victory for the student movement, and an incredible demonstration of the solidarity and will to resist amongst students. The police are the armed wing of austerity on campus and today we showed we won’t be intimidated by violence in the face of democratic protest.

The rising exploitation of students and staff alike, the government sell-off of our debts and the proposed abolition of ULU are unacceptable. It’s time to pull all these campaigns together to defend our education system, keep up the momentum and come back strong in the New Year. If we can unite, then we can take back our education system.”

For the moment, the challenge is to spread the movement to every campus across the country, and move from the involvement of thousands to the involvement of hundreds of thousands in defence against the attack on higher education.

The Student Assembly Against Austerity is organising a week of action 3-7th February over the privatisation of the student loan book and a mass student meeting at the end of January to plan the week of action.

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