The defiant occupation of the Great Hall by ‘Nottingham Students Against Fees and Cuts’ came to a dramatic close this afternoon. After two hours of animated debates among students and tense negotiations with University Security, the students departed the premises having secured a meeting with the Vice Chancellor and other senior staff scheduled for next Monday at 3:30pm.
Students gathered in the Great Hall at 1pm for a meeting to discuss possible responses to mounting pressures from University Security to evacuate the premises, the most recent of which being an order from Security received at 10am, which claimed that the students’ occupation was in contravention of Health and Safety regulations. A surprise appearance from Billy Bragg fired up the crowd, who applauded his heartfelt, vigorous support for the students’ cause. Those gathered then proceeded to discuss a variety of ideas for future action, including some form of public activism in conjunction with students of Nottingham Trent University, occupying a different room in the University, and the possibility of continuing the occupation until Thursday 9th December, when MPs will vote on whether or not to enforce raises in tuition fees and cuts in higher education funding. The debate soon turned, however, to the most pressing question of the day: should they stay, or should they go?
Tensions were running high as time seemed to be running out. Whilst some argued that ending the occupation could create an impression of “backing down” in the fight against cuts and rising fees, and may hinder the sense of solidarity with protesting students nationwide, many felt that, having secured a meeting with the Vice Chancellor, the occupants could leave with pride and a feeling of victory. Concerns were also raised regarding the potential lack of “manpower” necessary to hold the fort at all times, with many of the students who have occupied the building for the last three nights suffering extreme fatigue. A vote was called, from which a show of hands indicated a majority in favour of accepting the offer of the meeting and vacating the premises. Some protesters, however, felt this vote was insufficient to determine the fate of the protesting body.
Subjected to much interrogation was the claim made by University Security that the premises must be evacuated before tomorrow, since a wedding is supposedly scheduled to take place. In response to students’ requests for some form of evidence that the wedding was in fact planned, the Head of Security evaded the issue, claiming it was “not relevant” to the ultimatum being offered – If the students did not evacuate the offer of a formal meeting on Monday would be withdrawn.
Security loitered outside the entrance from approximately 2:30pm, warning students that they had five minutes before the offer of a meeting would be withdrawn. Many were keen to accept the University’s offer, yet others held out, adamant that leaving the building would be tantamount to giving in. After many passionate exchanges between ardent individuals, students began to collect their belongings and vacate the premises. Before leaving, students were keen to share contact details to ensure that the decision to terminate the occupation would not incur any loss of momentum in the fight against cuts and fees. Re-occupation of the Great Hall, or another University building, remains a possibility, should Monday’s meeting not result in active effort from the University to take the students’ concerns seriously. The University has already clarified, however, that no firm decisions will be made at the meeting.
Helen Pattison, undergraduate student of Social Policy and NUS delegate candidate, confidently asserted, “We are Nottingham Students Against Fees and Cuts and we will carry on. This is a victory for us, and this is only the beginning of a movement up and down the country”. Helen celebrated the decision of her seminar tutor to hold a seminar within the Great Hall during the occupation, “we want education to be free, and we want the Great Hall to be free as an educational space. Whenever the space we have occupied has been needed for educational purposes, we have been keen to accommodate that.”
This may be the end of the occupation, but it is certainly not the end of the fight against cuts and fees. All those involved now eagerly await the outcome of Monday’s meeting, in addition to plans to appeal directly to MPs next Thursday prior to the vote on the measures. The meeting on Monday is open to all students and staff of the University of Nottingham and will last no longer than 90 minutes. An “independent” chair will lead the meeting, and student media has been invited to attend.