OCCUPATION LIVE BLOG: The Occupation Ends
The Cambridge students’ occupation of the Old Schools has come to and end after 11 days.
by Varsity News
Friday 3rd December 2010, 06:45 GMT
Wednesday 8th Dec
18.17 The University Council has today released a statement outlining the University's position on the funding of Higher Education. In particular, it has committed the University to ensuring that no UK student is disadvantaged by financial circumstances from applying to or accepting a place at Cambridge. It also noted the importance of proper public funding for Higher Education teaching and research, and the public benefit that university education provides.
CUSU President Rahul Mansigani commented:
"We are pleased that the Council was persuaded to finally make a proper public statement. Members of the University have been calling for this for months, and the University has now clearly outlined its support for public funding of the education system. CUSU believes education is a vital social good, and I was therefore happy that, unlike the government, the University clearly recognises the huge public benefit that university education provides over and above the benefit to the individual. The Council also emphasised that the cost of HE should continue to be borne by the Government to reflect this public benefit. Under the government's programme, public funding for the teaching of arts subjects will virtually cease: Cambridge has restated its commitment to proper funding for all subjects and disciplines. The University has now given a clear signal of its expectations: proper commitment to access, to appropriate support for all subjects, and for significant public funding for education. The students of Cambridge call on the Government and on MPs to take note of the widespread and deep concerns that students, universities and the public have with current proposals. We cannot accept a system which will devastate funding for the Arts, cripple Access and be a disaster for our entire education system."
This is the first public announcement the University has made on the matter of tuition fee increases and student funding since the 11 day occupation of the Old Schools building.
The Vice-Chancellor had previously stated that the University management would make no comment until the occupation was brought to an end.
Monday 6th Dec
The events of this afternoon After a University Council meeting that overran for several hours, the already 300-strong crowd of assorted protesters began to increase in number outside the Pitt building on Trumpington street. Eventually, council members began to exit the building from the front entrance directly into the waiting crowd. Last to leave was the Vice-Chancellor, who, upon exiting, found himself door-stepped by a media scrum. After a few terse words to the cameras, the Vice-Chancellor made his way back to the Old Schools building by foot and flanked by a number of security officials. He was followed on his brief journey by the protesting crowd.
The details of the Council meeting have now been released. Rahul Mansigani and Sam Wakeford, as student members of the Council, brought forward proposals that the University make a public statement about its concerns regarding the government plans and their effect on Access and the future of higher education. They also brought forward criticism of the University's plans for bursaries and Access funding under the proposed fee system.
CUSU President Rahul Mansigani released the following statement:
"The University has finally agreed to make a statement about what are fundamental issues affecting its future. We look forward to receiving the statement, which students expect to be bold and concrete. Since October, students and academics have been calling for a statement criticising the education cuts, the damage they could cause to Access and the undue haste with which the Coalition is making fundamental changes to the education system. We discussed the occupation of the University Combination Room, and the student representatives spoke out in support of the occupation as a form of peaceful protest about unprecedented threats to the education system. We urged the University to support freedom of speech and protest, and sought a guarantee that the occupiers would not be punished. The Council and the Vice Chancellor have agreed that no legal proceedings will be taken against the occupiers. I'd like to thank those on the University Council who supported our proposals and look forward to students contributing further to this debate."
13.10 There is now some confusion as to when the exact end of the meeting will occur. It was initially set to end at 12.30, was then set back until 13.00, and now seems to be continuing without a fixed end time. A CUSU student Council member has emerged to tell the crowds that the meeting's conclusion would be 13.15, though the outside protesters think this is unlikely.
12.32 Varsity has learnt that the Council meeting is to be extended to 13.00. The protesters will have to wait another half hour.
12.25 The marchers are on the move again. The protesters have exited the Graduate Union and are regathering outside the Pitt building in preparation for the end of the Council meeting.
10.56 The precise details of the Council meeting agenda are unclear, however, Varsity has learnt that the issue of a rise in tuition fees to approximately the £9000 per annum, as suggested by the Browne Review, will be discussed. The generosity of the Cambridge bursary may also be subject to discussion. Though whether the demands of the protestors will be on the agenda remains unknown.
10.44 The protesters are now regrouping in the Graduate Union, just off Pembroke street. They appear to be preparing themselves for the end of the Council meeting which is due to conclude at 12.30.
10.22 The Council meeting has begun, and, in a gesture designed to show how the student protesters have been ignored during the decision-making process, the crowd have covered their mouths with tape. The silent protest is now underway.
09.59 As Council members begin to arrive, the numbers in the crowd begin to swell to nearly 300. Protest leaders have been reading out a list of demands to all those assembled.
09.39 The demonstration is mobile and currently marching up King's Parade towards the Pitt building where a University Council meeting is set to be held at 10.30. The protesters are chanting: "Who's Uni? Our Uni!" It seems the aim of the protests is to greet the University Council members with hostility as they enter the building.
09.21 King's Parade is now the scene of around 200 students, some of whom are busy organising a sound system to amplify their protest.
09.14 Amidst the singing and cheering outside Great St. Mary's, the student protesters are collectively climbing back over Senate House's gates and onto the street.
09.09 Having gathered in the atrium of the occupied building, the occupiers are now on the move and are marching to protest outside Great St. Mary's Church.
08.18 After nearly an hour's work, the senior common room has been tided and is looking just as the occupiers found it. The occupation has, after 11 days, come to an end. Today's planned protests will be the latest in a series of demonstrations against increases in tuition fees and cuts to higher education that has included a blockade of the Old Schools and a flash occupation of the Guildhall.
07.33 The occupiers are waking up early to prepare for the planned 9am protests. Despite the early hour there is already music and dancing.
Sunday 5th Dec
16.41 The final speaker rises to announce that the bill is likely to pass the Commons vote, but, "laws are only ink on paper - the real question is who holds the pen?" The assembly is then treated to a quotation from Shelley's The Masque of Anarchy: "Rise like lions after slumber / In unvanquishable number / Shake your chains to earth like dew / Ye are many, they are few". And on that stirring note, the assembly concludes.
16.35 The meeting is reaching it summation. It is suggested that before the protests, students were merely individuals, but now there is a sense of togetherness. The remark "our leaders are failing us, but we do not need to fail each other" is met with roof-raising cheers. "We need to remember to create the future we want to see". The Chair finishes by saying she looks forward to seeing all those gathered and more at the next general assembly.
16.27 There is now discussion of linking with Cambridgeshire Against the Cuts, though there is some concern raised as to the number of groups that the occupiers should align with. A proposal has been made that a representative working group be set up to decide further such details, though here again there is some disagreement on the idea.
16.25 The occupiers have voted in favour of reconvening an assembly in the new year with the date to be finalised at a later point.
16.16 Discussion is now occurring about the possibility of another general assembly. January has been mentioned as a possibility.
16.15 A student speaker from Brimingham claims that redundancies are being enforced there little by little which is making some fear speaking out against the cuts.
16.06 Simon Szreter, Professor of history at St. John's, says he is very proud of the occupiers. He draws an anology with Harry Potter: they are Dumbledore's Army and they have found their Room of Requirement.
15.55 An 11 year old speaker is greeted with rapturous applause as she tells the assembled group about the importance of sending letters of protest to Downing Street.
15.52 The occupiers' sense of outrage continues: one Cambridge student says that it is shocking that "the university is not supporting its staff and its students" and that it should be "standing up for all of society".
15.44 Acknowledging the festive season, one student remarks that "its really important that the enrgy and anger aren't dissipated by big turkey dinners" - indicating that the occupiers' intentions may be to continue their campaign into January and beyond.
15.40 A Robinson student calls upon the campaign to engage more with students: "it has got to be about values rather than about someone's issues". There is a general consensus that the occupation has been a success but that now the campaign must make itself even more visible.
15.29 The meeting resloves to continue to apply pressure on Julian Huppert, Cambridge MP, and to lobby members of the university council. A member of the city council speaks up to say that the leading group in the council are in denial and that further pressure should be applied to them.
15.19 It is noted that the University of Nottingham have secured a meeting with university administrators on Tuesday - the suggestion is made that Cambridge students should be made aware of this and show their support. Then, it is announced that an invitation from the University of Manchester has been sent to occupations nationwide suggesting that there should be a day of coordination on the matter. The proposed date is December 12th.
15.15 The occupiers are discussing their plans for a rally tomorrow at 9am outside Great St. Mary's Church which will preceed the planned journey to London for the protests of the upcoming week.
15.06 The second-half of Sunday's meeting is about to begin. The programme is to open with a discussion on current campaigns and then to extend the ambit of the meeting to specific future plans.
14.39 The meeting concludes for a brief recess, after which a discussion on longer-term strategy will commence.
14.34 Brendan Burchell, a PPSIS senior lecturer, cloaked in a dark gown, stands up to say that everyone can see the lunacy of the Browne Review proposals. He goes on to add that access in Cambridge will suffer, but is heartened by the actions of the occupiers. Then, to thunderous applause, he says that Cambridge is a "jewel in Britain's crown" and that everyone must resist its "privatisation".
14.30 The secretary of the NUT in Cambridge says that the debate should be broadened to include education cuts to secondary education and cuts in youth services. In addition to this, the NUT should link up with Cambridge Defend Education to push for such issues to be addressed. The example of secondary schools becoming academies is highlighted for concern.
14.23 Now speaking is an American graduate who studied at Cambridge. She says she is proud that Cambridge students are resisting attempts to import the US system which she claims is unjust. To the international students present, she makes the point that many of them may lose out on UK places in the future because of fee increases.
14.18 David Cameron, a popular bogeyman, is coming in for some scathing abuse. A sixth form student seeks to send him this message: "this is your big society and we are angry!"
14.14 The meeting is to be extended for another 15 minutes. The next speaker is a postal worker who says he wants to see free education for all. He adds that education is not merely about getting a well paid job - to which he receives a massive round of applause - he then seeks to thank the students for being an inspiration to him and his fellow workers.
14.11 CUSU President, Rahul Mansigani, is now speaking. He outlines what CUSU have done to support the occupation and states that "we need to stand up for education for the sake of education".
14.00 A Cambridge student seeks to amplify recent remarks concerning the cuts to student allowances by noting how without the assistance of the EMA he would have found it far tougher to achieve a place at Cambridge University.
13.55 A message of solidarity from the occupation at UCL is relayed to the listeners. The speaker, who was once an undergrad at Cambridge, praises the energy and commitment of the Old Schools occupiers by describing the protests as 'creative anarchy'. He launches a scathing attack on the NUS in saying that the occupations across the country have been the "de facto NUS" and that the successes are nothing to do with NUS campaigning.
13.46 Next up is a local sixth form teacher. He bemoans the governments cuts to the EMA adding that the standard of education will slip if these cuts are realised. He goes on to note the large cuts to libraries in the Cambridgeshire area, and encourages the students to protest this week in demos anticipating the Commons vote on student fee increases organised by the NUS. Then, in what appears to be an unrelated remark, he calls upon the assembled listeners to oppose the UK's overly strict trade union laws.
13.40 Yet more statements from the floor. A representative for further education in Cambridge has said that students from Parkside have involved themselves in the occupation as well. She announces to the room that she is also an artist and a member of a group called Rebel Arts, and thinks that people should get involved in protesting creatively. She does not add how this might be achieved.
13.37 A student speaker stands up to say that he has found no empty slogans at the occupation; people really mean what they say and are genuine in their convictions. A primary school teacher from outside Cambridge seeks to thank the students for their efforts in fighting for the future of the children he teaches.
13.32 A representative of the Unite branch of Cambridge Univeristy has stated that the country finds itself in this mess because of a crisis caused by bankers - and not by the people. They add that we have a government by the rich and for the rich, and, in a sign of allegiance, the representative adds that 'we need to collectively stand against them'.
13.29 Martin Booth, the secretary of Cambridge Against the Cuts and a member of the Cambridge Socialists is currently speaking. He warmly congratulates the occupiers for showing that they are prepared and willing to fight for what they believe in.
13.22 A Cambridge Defend Education spokesman has stated that the police brutality on the 24th provoked the students into action and consequently to occupy the Old Schools. It has been added, with regard the legality of the occupation, that "if we are breaking the law, we do not recognise the legitimacy of that ruling'.
13.16 It seems that the aim of the meeting is to decide a plan that will bring together disparate groups in Cambridge and to move the campaign forward. Lots of people are still arriving in a room that has essentially becoming as living and working space for the student protestors.
13.14 A flyer is being distributed amongst the gathered occupiers which says that Labour City and County Councillors send their messages of support to the students' peaceful protest and to the Cambridge Defend Education Campaign as a whole.
13.06 The occupied room is now packed. Some students have been asked to move from their chairs to allow others who are less able to sit down in what is turning out to be a diverse assembly. The meeting should be underway imminently.
12.47 There is a gradual increase in activity as the occupiers assemble for a proposed meeting. Food is being provided and cameras are being set up. Numbers are increaseing and there are plenty of young faces around - some seem to be as young as 12. The occupiers appear to be in high spirits.
Saturday 4th Dec
19.33 There has been an update from the occupiers who went to the Mill Road Winter Fair this afternoon. The trip was said to be a success and the occupiers were able to build bridges with a range of religious, charitable and political groups. The response was positive and underlined that many voluntary organisations also stood to lose under the proposed spending cuts.
18.33 Sayeau's praise for the innovative use of the social networking media during the Occupation is being greeted enthusiastically in the room. He suggests that the student occupations have pulled from corporate social networks a utopian use in the dissemination of ideas opposing neo-liberal reform. Through their actions the occupiers are also returning universities to their original purposes as the first social network for the exchange of ideas.
18.03 Michael Sayeau, a lecturer in English Literature at UCL is speaking about the impact of the occupation on his own thinking about communication of ideas. The occupying students, he says, have learnt so much and so quickly about communicating their message that they are now in the position to be giving the wider academic community advice. He also brings warm regards from the London Occupation.
17.59 The video of the demonstration, named 'Run, Philip Green, Run!', is now available on YouTube.
16.18 The video will possibly be named 'Taxpayer Tanya and the Artful Dodger' in reference to the fact that Green put his company in his wife's name and has been channeling his paycheck through a Monaco bank account. He has saved £285 million in taxes while advising David Cameron on what cuts to make. This money could pay for £9,000 fees of close to 32,000 students, or the salaries of 9,000 NHS nurses. The group believes that eradicating some of this legal tax avoidance could be one of the alternatives to the cuts.
16.14 The atmosphere amongst the occupiers is one of celebration after the great success of the Topshop demonstration. People are laughing and enjoying themselves as they watch the video. The police have fully evacuated Topshop and have stopped anyone from entering.
16.01 The protestors have just annouced that their demonstration against Topshop in the Grand Arcade has been successful. The demonstration was held in light of the revelations that the billionaire owner of the successful high street chain has cost the British taxpayer £285m in legal tax avoidance. The action comprised of some protestors wearing a board saying "tax collector" chasing others wearing Philip Green masks. A video is due to be posted on YouTube shortly.
13.49 The general consensus seems to be that the song is a good one.
13.42 Some of the protestors have written an "occupation song" and they are about to perform it.
13. 26 A plan seems to be emerging for tomorrow. The occupiers will focus on collecting thoughts and forging contacts between the students, unions and townspeople. They want to transcend the town-gown divide and establish the Combination Room as a "non-hierarchical space". Many academics who have supported the occupation are expected to arrive.
13. 25 Boni Sones from Women's Parliamentary Radio has just arrived at the Occupation to interview a female occupier.
13.23 There is growing concern that security are 'creeping closer'. There is currently a proctor and security guard outside, though it seems unlikely they will try to enter at this time.
11.00 Students who didn't spend the night are arriving and bringing breakfast to those who slept over. A meeting is expected in the next half an hour.
10.15 The atmosphere in the Combination Room is calm and quiet. While some students are still enjoying their lie-ins, others are getting up and preparing for the day. In one corner of the room, a group are writing a protest song for performance tonight.
09.36 Most of the occupiers are enjoying a lie-in after yesterday's early start and day of direct action. There was a visit by the Fire Service at about 11pm last night to discuss fire safety. The Fire Service appeared to be happy with current safety arrangements within the occupational one student told Varsity that he believes the visit from the Fire Service was 'political' and part of a plan by the Cambridge Police to use the powers of the Fire Service to remove the protestors. On the agenda for today is mainly preparation for tomorrow's Cambridge General Assembly.
Sunday, Nov 28th through Friday, Dec 3rd
Reporting contributed by James Abbott-Thompson, Jane Ashford-Thom, Rebecca Bailey, Joanna Beaufoy, Emily Carlton, Tristan Dunn, Imogen Goodman, Andrew Griffin, Jake Hollis, Kurien Parel, Jemma Trainor, Jessie Waldman, Andrew Diver, Rhys Treharne, Lydia Onyett
Last updated: Saturday 4th December 2010, 12:16 GMT