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:
- 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.
- 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.
- That every student is offered accommodation which does not exceed the amount they receive in loans and grants
- That the university does not make a profit (or “surplus”) from the fees it charges for accommodation
- The reinstatement of Simon Furse and Kelly Rogers
- The lifting of the onerous and inhibitive restrictions on Hattie Craig
- That the University recognises occupations as a legitimate form of protest, with a long and illustrious history
- 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