One of the entrances to the Old Schools buildingWikimedia Commons

Following a group of around 50 students entering and occupying Old Schools yesterday morning in support of the current UCU strikes, Varsity has spoken to the activists on their aims and arrangements as life under occupation begins.

The collective, which contains members from Cambridge Defend Education and Cambridge’s Marxist Society, has taken over two floors within the building, and according to one protestor, “the logic of the occupation is specifically to put pressure on the university in that we are in one of their central administration buildings”.

Old Schools is a key University administration building, which houses the central University offices and the office of vice-chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope. The news also comes as staff strikes enter their penultimate week, whose demands include fairer staff contributions to the USS pension scheme, salary improvements, gender and racial equality.


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50 students occupy Old Schools in support of strikes

Speaking to Varsity, one student present said the occupation “is symbolic, because this is essentially the heart of the university, and it is a part of the university that students don’t ever see. We are reclaiming this space and saying it should be open; it should be democratic.”

Another occupier argued the group “are occupying in solidarity with the ongoing UCU strikes. This is the third round of strikes and management are still showing no signs of actually addressing the massive problems that the strikes or highlighting or doing anything to meet the demands of striking workers.”

Cambridge UCU itself expressed its support for the occupation, and held an impromptu rally outside of Old Schools last night to show support for the students’ actions. UCU praised students for the “solidarity” they have shown on the picket lines in a recent statement.

“Rather than blaming staff for the disruption to their education, they are clear that they have a common interest in standing with us to defend higher education from the relentless pressures of marketisation wreaking havoc across the sector,” it continues.

The group of students say they do not plan to leave the building until all their demands are satisfied. They have also customised the building to meet their needs for as long as they remain inside the building.

In full CDE's demands so far

1. The Vice Chancellor should make a public statement, calling on national employers’ bodies UUK and UCEA to meet UCU’s demands.

2. The Vice Chancellor should make a public statement setting out the University of Cambridge’s plans to meet the national UCU demands.

3. The University of Cambridge should officially recognise Cambridge UCU.

4. There should be no attendance monitoring of any kind during the strike period, to ensure migrant students and workers can participate in strike action

5. There should be no disciplinary action against students or staff for action in support of the strike

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The top floor has been converted into a quiet study space for students to work. One occupier told Varsity that they “personally felt more productive here”.

“I can’t explain why but I’ve done more of my coursework here than I normally would. Some people like to go into a different library when working, and some like to occupy a building,” they argued.

While there are limited cooking facilities within the building and initially students brought their own food, the occupiers have now begun to receive food donations.

The group are now also planning their first communal dinner to inaugurate ’Solidarity College, Cambridge’ a parody breakaway college they have created as part of the occupation.

In a Facebook post introducing their new college, the occupiers write that they welcome all undergraduate and postgraduate students, and over the coming days they will be announcing teach-outs, bops, and “democratically elected honorary fellows”.

Some of the occupiers of Old Schools have also created a podcast named ‘Occupod’ documenting their experiences of the occupation so far.

Varsity understands the group is meeting this afternoon to discuss the finalisation of their demands.

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