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Staff and students unite against fee rise in peaceful protest

Photo: Tom Wills

One hundred and eighty students and members of staff gathered on Library Square last Wednesday, expressing anger at Lord Browne’s proposals to significantly raise the cost of higher education, and calling upon University of Sussex Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Farthing to issue a statement, condemning tuition fee increases.

The meeting was organised by the Stop the Cuts movement and beginning at 1pm, roughly coincided with Chancellor George Osborne’s House of Commons address, during which Osborne outlined the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR).

Students and staff listened to a number of guest speakers for an hour, before peacefully marching on Sussex House, the university’s managerial and administrative centre, at 2pm. After completing a circuit of Sussex House, whilst loudly voicing opposition to higher education cuts, the group dispersed without incident.

A singer-songwriter had entertained the crowd as people slowly assembled before the demonstration.

Simon Englert, a representative from Stop the Cuts, first addressed Library Square: “We have 150 to 180 people here, which is absolutely amazing for a first demonstration. We want to tell Michael Farthing what we think about the privatisation of education. Let’s tell him we were angry last year, but we are angrier now.”

Professor Luke Martell, Vice President of the University of Sussex branch of the University and College Union (UCU), was the first guest speaker. Professor Martell described the Stop the Cuts movement as “the envy of the UCU”, citing the positive and vocal impact of the movement, and the “carnival” atmosphere of the UCU-led lecturers strike at the University of Sussex on 18 March 2010.

Students and staff from the University’s International Relations department voiced concern at the recent appointment of Dr Jamie Shea as a visiting lecturer, as previously reported by the Badger, and urged people to sign a petition for his removal. Dave Jones spoke about his campaign to save Brighton’s Bright Start Nursery, a campaign that has received backing from leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas MP, and Blur guitarist Graham Coxon.

The President of the Students’ Union, Cameron Tait, also addressed the crowd, encouraging students to participate in a national demonstration against higher education cuts, co-ordinated by the National Union of Students (NUS) and UCU, to be held in London on Wednesday 10 November.

President Tait said: “We need to organise, we need to resist, and we need to protest against these cuts. We need to be championing the argument for investment in an education system, free for all at the point of entry.”

Lita Wallis, the Students’ Union Education Officer, ended the round of speeches, declaring, “I feel so sad and disillusioned to be a student now. We have a responsibility to speak to our friends, to speak to people we know. Our generation doesn’t feel very empowered: we need to empower our fellow students. If we move together we can have our say; the best way to do that is to go to the national demonstration.”

The protest group then marched towards Sussex House. Sources indicate that university security had locked down Sussex House, and were prepared to secure Bramber House, in order to prevent any attempts at occupation.

A previous demonstration on Wednesday 3 March 2010, led by Stop the Cuts, had escalated into a full-scale occupation of Sussex House. The situation deteriorated as students clashed with riot police, culminating in the temporary suspension of six students.

Last Wednesday’s demonstration ended peacefully, with no damage to university property. Professor Farthing did not directly respond to Stop the Cuts; sources suggest that Professor Farthing was off-site at the time of the protest.

The university issued an official statement, expressing support for the peaceful and positive attitude of those involved: “In relation to the student demonstration today, we have consistently supported the right of students to express their views and concerns in a peaceful and constructive way, without disrupting the day-to-day activity of other students and staff on campus.  We welcome the fact that this is the approach that has been taken.”

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