Today signalled a victory for the occupiers and protesters at the University of Birmingham today, as not only did protesters gain access to the occupation, but they have so far (at 11:16pm) managed to continue to defy the injunction that was passed in court this morning.
Around 3:30 approximately 100 protesters managed to gain entry to the occupation through the Aston Webb building and were able to see in person, for the first time, the occupiers, as well as have a whole group discussion on their next steps. At 4:00 talks started on whether to obey the terms of the injunction or if it was a viable and popular option to defy it – through the night, or indefinitely into the coming days. The injunction itself had been the object of criticism by the judge overseeing the hearing, who, despite passing it, condemned the university for its vague conditions, particularly the case of the “persons unknown,” who would be banned from future action. This allows the university to press criminal charges against any student in the Senate Chambers past 5pm this evening, even if they only entered today. However, the University of Birmingham did make concessions to the occupying students in that they hold the burden of proof in proving who the “persons unknown” are if they wish to stop you taking part in future occupations and demonstrations. Furthermore, they also conceded to drop the court charges against the two named defendants on the injunction, as long as the proceedings were ended today.
Despite these concessions, Defend Education and the other occupiers appear to plan to continue to occupy the building as a means of defying the injunction. This comes as no surprise as other societies at the university have panned the UoB’s move as “petty, vindictive and intimidating” (UoB Amnesty International) and “disproportionate and inappropriate” (UoB United Nations Society). To continue this occupation serves to show David Eastwood and the other senior management that students will not back down easily over matters that really matter to them, despite growing opposition, both internally and externally. The reactions of the senior management are disappointing, however not surprising considering the stance that the vice-chancellor takes regarding higher education, having publicly supported raising fees. The commercialisation of higher education is a policy supported by the current government shown through the privatisation of the student loan book and the raising of tuition fees. However, the raising of fees has not improved services for students or wages for non-managerial staff, rather it has resulted in the reduction of many departments in the university, the most recent threatened being the Nursing department.
So, with a vice-chancellor that publicly supports the government’s policy of diminishing higher education to a commercialised product, the occupation is vital if we want to show the senior management that we are serious in our aims, and will not back down until they have at the very least been acknowledged and a response has been formed – past the issuing of an injunction which is clearly against the rights of the students protesting and the occupiers inside the Senate Chambers. As long as the injunction is fought, more attention is bought to our cause, most recently the occupiers made the Guardian Education section, and today, the front page of The Daily Mirror. Help is flooding in from around the country, with Defend Education groups from the University of Warwick and the University of Sussex actually coming to UoB to protest with us and to give advice regarding the injunction.
Most recently (10:30) Defend Education have released a statement on their website declaring their ongoing resistance to the terms of the injunction, and with many more students now occupying the Senate Chambers, their demands will be hard to ignore for much longer.