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Students occupy lecture hall in protest of increasing tuition fees

An estimated 200 students and staff gathered in Library Square last week for a rally followed by a march that ended with an impromptu occupation of Fulton lecture theatre B from 4pm on Monday 15 November.

The rally was organised as a follow-up to the national demonstration in London on Wednesday 10 November. Cameron Tait, President of the University of Sussex Students’ Union, was first to speak. Referring to comments in the media about the events at 30 Millbank being an “attack on democracy”, Tait responded by saying that “when you think about who the biggest aggressors are in the attack on democracy, it is the 57 Lib Dem MPs that campaigned on one issue and now are about to implement the complete opposite.”
The Vice-President of the University of Sussex branch of the University and College Union (UCU), Luke Martell, spoke of how union leaders had been “inspired” by the student movement.  Martell argued that the “heart” of the protests reach beyond “job cuts” and “fees”. They are against a “market-driven university system.”

After the speeches the crowd began marching towards the residences, chanting phrases such as: “If you cut back our education, we’ll go into occupation.” The march went around Kent House and passed the new Fulton building on Arts road. The group then walked into the empty Fulton lecture theatre B.

Some students left but amongst those who had remained, it became clear that they were in an occupation as an organisational meeting began immediately. A lecture scheduled to begin fifteen minutes later was relocated promptly. A statement was soon drafted by the occupiers which said that: “We reject the notion that these cuts are necessary or for the benefit of society… this marketisation of education will destroy the prospect of a free and critical academic enquiry.”

The occupiers added that “there are viable alternatives which are not being explored.” In the statement, the occupiers called for “all other university, college and school students and staff to strike and occupy in defence of the future of our education system.”

Hung up at the back of the lecture theatre, a banner read, ‘we won’t pay for their crisis’. Two students who took part in the occupation argued that this “occupation is a legitimate form of protest.

This protest tactic has been used in history during the Apartheid and the Civil Rights movement.” They commented that there was  a teaching box that they set up at the front, which is a suggestion box where lecturers or societies could arrange to use the area for classes, talks or debates in an open co-operation.

The students set up nights where co-operating societies planned to give talks. They organised a rota of students, one occupier added that “a minimum of 15 to 20 students” kept the lecture theatre occupied and “on the first night there were about 50 to 60 people sleeping here.”

A rota was used last year in the Arts A2 lecture theatre and Bramber House occupations, which proved effective when dealing with long-haul occupations. The University of Sussex stated that  it “supports the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech.”

But though they “looked to make other space available for the scheduled lectures, this remains disruptive for our students, takes up staff time and creates additional costs.”

The university further commented that “there is plenty of opportunity elsewhere for students to meet and discuss issues in a structured way” and, officially there was no support from the lecturers’ union, UCU.

However groups on-campus such as the Socialist, Anarchist, Free Palestine and Environmental societies offered their support. Last year, the protest against cuts brought on worldwide support from universities in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, California, South Korea and many in England including Oxford, Edinburgh and Cardiff.

This year, students at Sussex, Cambridge and Manchester have begun to take the initiative after the London protest by occupying buildings of their universities. This week, on 24 November, students across the country are planning protests, walk-outs and occupations.

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