In the past two weeks, police have violently evicted, beaten, and arrested students from peaceful occupations in London and sent undercover police officers to spy on students. Also, across the country, university management are using injunctions and violence to suppress dissent; at Birmingham, students were threatened with £25,000 court costs and the University of London has taken out an injunction that bans students from protesting on campus until June next year. Whilst in Sussex five students have been banned from campus because of their role in peaceful protests.
The scale of the police response has not been witnessed on British university campuses since before the 1980’s and it appears as though these actions may be an accumulative and concentrated effort to stifle protest for fear that students will be successful in activating change within our educational institutions. Students have been beaten, strangled, dragged across roads, and violently bundled into vans.
At Northumbria University, a diverse group of students from all manner of political backgrounds, have come together to take part in a national day of action in order to raise awareness and call for an educational environment that is public and democratic, and where university management uphold and respect the rights of students’ to peaceful protest and assembly.
Their position as a collective is to affirm that our campuses are places for inquiry, critical thinking and non-violent dissent. They call for; an end to Police brutality towards students (with full public enquiries into current cases of criminality by law-enforcement officers accused of violence towards students), the immediate reversal of moves to privatise the student loan book, and a cessation of the current government’s austerity agenda which is seriously damaging access to Higher and Further Education in our country.
They additionally wish to express solidarity with university staff and trade unions who continue to press for fair pay and are engaged in on-going strike activities at this time.
Political activist and Northumbria Student Gary Spedding said: “I am exceptionally concerned by the draconian measures being implemented by certain university administrations and I must express my disgust at actions being committed by some police officers on a number of campuses across the UK.
“This heavy-handed repression is a serious student welfare issue. I feel it is appropriate to remind management about what should be paramount to our universities at all times; the safety and wellbeing of students.
“Universities around the United Kingdom should carefully consider the gravity of their actions in situations where their response to student protests is under increasing focus and scrutiny.
“I reject attempts to caricature and debase students as violent and intimidating when we engage in largely peaceful protest against austerity, against cuts to Higher and Further Education, and to stop the privatisation of student debt.
“Our future in education is in jeopardy and we will put up a ferocious fight for it when necessary.”
The group has contacted local Members of Parliament to raise these issues with the government. A selection of solidarity messages received are as follows:
“The right to peaceful protest and assembly is a basic right in a free society and I applaud students and trades unionists’ commitment to the defense of our finest democratic traditions of free speech and peaceful protest in the cause of social justice.
When I was a student at Northumbria in the days when it was Newcastle Polytechnic I was proud to take part in a number of peaceful demonstrations and in direct action including occupations protesting at cuts to student grants. I cannot recall the Police being involved or called in by the University administration.
Especially this week with the sad passing of Nelson Mandela it is quite right that we remember Madiba’s word that ‘Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world” – Grahame Morris MP for Easington.
“Peaceful protest is not only a hard-won right it is essential to the proper functioning of any institution which holds itself accountable. I will be in Westminster on Wednesday but I wanted to send you a message of support in defending student democracy, freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly. As a mature student with three children, my mother studied at Northumbria when it was Newcastle Poly in the eighties. She was very proud of her degree but I know she could never have afforded to study under today’s funding system. We need an economic recovery which works for all, with social equity at its heart and where the benefits are fairly distributed.” – Chi Onwurah MP for Newcastle Central & Shadow Cabinet Office Minister
“I am opposed to this governments austerity agenda and I do support the right of students to be properly educated and not to face problems when peacefully demonstrating” – Dave Anderson MP for Blaydon.