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Students protest to stop the cuts

Last Thursday the 26th November, ‘Stop the Cuts’ protestors descended on Bramber House to lobby the Vice-Chancellor, Michael Farthing, over the latest proposed cut backs and redundancies at Sussex.

The University has announced that it will be making over 100 redundancies across the campus as of July 31st. These job losses will affect the departments of Life Sciences, Informatics, Engineering, History, and English, as well as the Centre for Continuing Education (CCE).

The University’s budget for 2009/10 seeks to reduce costs by £3m on a turnover of £160m, with additional savings of up to £5m in 2010/11. All the while, members of Senior Management at Sussex have recently enjoyed pay increases. Michael Farthing is sitting pretty on a salary of £227,000, almost £40,000 more than Gordon Brown’s annual income. Moreover, the wage belt of the top 20 managers at the University exceeds £2.6m. With inflation at an all time low, many students and tutors are mystified as to how the University can justify these pay rises.

In the week leading up to the protest, Stop the Cuts activists posted flyers across the campus in the style of wanted posters, branding a mug shot of the Vice-Chancellor, accompanied by the slogan “Michael ‘Thieving’ Farthing: wanted for crimes against students”. The lucrative ‘reward’ on offer is nothing less than Farthing’s own generous salary.

The Stop the Cuts campaign demands that the university administration makes no compulsory redundancies and resists student fees and cuts in higher education spending. It argues for the reining in of executive pay, the postponement of new building projects, and the protection of academic freedom.

“When they say cut back, we say fight back. No ifs, no buts, no education cuts” was the mantra of the protestors as they marched through Library Square and onto Bramber House. The energetic protest attracted many onlookers who stopped in their tracks as USSU Welfare Officer, Ciaran Whitehead, and Paul Cecil, President of the University and College Union (UCU), addressed the crowd.

Ciaran stressed that it is the staff and students that make our institution what it is, “we are not a university of corporate management.”

Paul Cecil further warned that “the central relationship between students and staff working together in the educational project is at huge risk under the University’s proposals.”

A number of protestors attempted to continue their march into Bramber House, where the Vice-Chancellor was attending a lunchtime meeting. However, security was called to halt the students and the fire doors were subsequently locked for around 20 minutes.

The University has said that it will continue to invest in targeted areas like the infrastructure developments on campus for teaching, learning and research, as well as in new student housing. Professor Farthing has stressed that “the development of the campus is necessary to sustain growth and improvement over the long term and is critically important if the University is to be successful.”

Farthing has also declared that Sussex is to establish a new school of business, management and economics, which he hopes will tap into the overseas student market. Indeed, one in seven international students comes to Britain to study business and management, and Farthing is not prepared to miss out on this income stream.

However, Welfare Officer, Ciaran Whitehead, was quick to point out: “International students are not cash cows; we must be able to provide them with sufficient support.”

Speaking on BBC Sussex Radio on the day of the protest, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Layzell, insisted that the University must respond to the demands of perspective students. “There is a changing student demand; the University must look for new course programmes that satisfy the wants of perspective students.”

It remains to be seen whether management will listen to the demands of the University’s existing students, who want small class sizes, access to tutors, and quality teaching within a respected academic environment.

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