Following the poor turnout of the first fees protest at the university, on the 30th November the organisers of Nottingham Students Against Cuts and Tutition fees staged another protest and occupation. Feedback from the first protest suggested that not enough people were aware of the event; the second attempt saw an endeavour towards better publicity with a Facebook event advertising the campaign. Although the Facebook page stated that over 500 students would be attending the protest, the turnout was not quite so impressive with around 60 students gathering on the steps of Portland building at 11.30 a.m.
Dave Pike, one of the organisers of the event, started things off as he addressed the crowd that had accumulated outside Portland. He introduced SU President Will Vickers as the first speaker, who was quick to state that although the SU were not directly involved in this protest, the cause had his full support. Vickers encouraged protesters to follow his lead by getting in touch with their local MPs.
The extent to which the protests against cuts in education have come to involve lecturers and academics was represented in the statements of Roger Bromley (relayed by a student in his absence), a Professor of Cultural Studies, and Professor Andreas Bielber from the Law and Social Sciences Department. Bromley called the Government “brazenly ideological,” and provoked widespread hilarity when stating that the coalition government made Margaret Thatcher seem like a democratic socialist.
Sophia ‘M’, a postgraduate and one of the event’s organisers gave a short speech condemning investment bankers, “Investment bankers got us into this mess. Why does the government think we’re supposed to pay for their mistakes?”
Pike looked to capitalise on the tone set by Sophia’s populist rhetoric, announcing that higher tuition fees would see “the power elite being put above ‘normal’ people”. Many at the protest seemed keen to place education cuts within a broader context of class struggle and the Socialist Worker Party’s slogan ‘Fuck Fees’ could be seen amongst the gathering.
One of the most powerful speeches came from one of the University’s lecturers. Calmly delivered, she asserted the value of education describing it as a political act in itself; a right that we are all entitled to which allows us to gain a better understanding of the world around us. Tuition fees put a price tag on education, she stated, and therefore makes knowledge a commodity. The lecturer also acclaimed the strengths of being subjected to the “rich diversity” of a student population that is representative of our wider community. Her warning was that cuts and higher tuitions fees would destroy the multiplicity of both the student and staff population.
The whole protest seemed to be fairly disorganised. Once the speakers had said their piece, Dave Pike encouraged the crowd to make some noise, then asked if anyone else wanted to talk. In an act of democracy, Pike then asked the crowd to raise a hand if they felt the next step should be to “make some noise” outside of the Vice Chancellor’s office. Following a positive response, the march progressed towards Trent. Once inside, the organisers of the protesters were keen to emphasise that the aim of the march was to disturb people working in the building as little as possible.
There was little need for the 6 security guards that emerged once the crowd reached the courtyard of Trent; other than chanting “Green, Green, Greenaway, do not make the students pay” the protesters were not looking to cause trouble and instead focused on occupying a space in the Trent building, although this was only decided after more “democratic” questioning. Again, Pike asked “Where do you want to go now?”, to which a call responded: “To the library!”. Once the Great Hall became free, though, the protest settled there and began discussing the next steps.
The group soon formulated a statement with which they aimed to confront the University. The predominant point on the statement is “to lobby the Russell Group and government to issue a statement condemning all cuts to Higher Education”. Other points include a call for an “Open book policy in regards to existing budget constraints”; and to “Ensure no redundancies for teaching, research and support staff”.
The intentions of this protest were not to cause damage or to harass. Immediately the organisers began creating a code of conduct to be implemented throughout the duration of the occupancy. The protesters were determined to portray themselves as responsible and non-riotous, and were planning on negotiating with University Management and University Security.
While there has been some talk of the protest continuing for days, if not weeks, it remains to be seen as to how long this resolve will be sustained. The last time an occupation of this magnitude occurred, security physically ejected the protesters after five days.
Emily Sargent and Calum Paton.