Students are occupying buildings at three London universities in what they claim is a nationwide protest against an “increasingly neoliberal, undemocratic and restrictive education system”.
On the evening of 26 March, protests were taking place at the University of the Arts London, the London School of Economics and King’s College London in the wake of similar occupations in continental Europe, including one at the University of Amsterdam.
Free education, more transparency in university decision-making and the introduction of the living wage are among the various demands of students involved in the London protests.
In addition to demands for greater student involvement in university decision-making, protesters at Central Saint Martins art college, part of UAL, also want the institution to reverse its decision to cut hundreds of foundation course places in art and design.
Students held a protest outside UAL’s campus on High Holborn on the afternoon of 25 March over the proposed cuts and claim to have shut down the central London thoroughfare for about an hour.
They then marched to the London College of Communication in Elephant and Castle, which they say will bear the brunt of the cuts, and entered the building.
According to a statement on UAL’s website, protesters “made their way into London College of Communication and triggered the fire alarm”.
“Everyone was evacuated from the building causing disruption to students and staff,” it adds.
UAL’s students’ union president Shelly Asquith criticised the university’s decision to involve police, saying it showed management are “afraid of occupation as a tactic and of the power of students”.
“We believe firmly that the police should be kept off our campuses and that universities should be a space free from intimidation and police harassment,” she added.
The occupation of Central Saint Martins, which began on the evening of 19 March, is currently ongoing, although UAL is now in dialogue with the group.
“We remain passionately committed to providing foundation in art and design for art and design students,” said a spokesman for UAL, which “will continue to teach it in two centres at Central Saint Martins and Chelsea, Camberwell and Wimbledon”.
“The qualification will no longer be delivered at London College of Communication, where it is generally not a prerequisite of entry to undergraduate courses,” he added.
A group at the LSE who occupied rooms last week within the Old Building over the “financialisation of the university” also remain on site.
An LSE spokesman said the protest has been “peaceful” and “there is common ground between the institution and its students, including on tackling inequality, in improving participation in decision-making and in ensuring the school takes a strong principled stance on where it invests its funds.
“The school will continue to engage in dialogue with its students, and through its students’ union, which is not involved in the current action,” he added.
King’s, where a group of students occupied rooms in its Strand campus on 25 March, says its students’ union has “offered to facilitate discussion between the group and university management”.
“We recognise and support the right of the students to peaceful protest and await to learn of their demands,” a spokeswoman added.
Members from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts are set to hold a demonstration in Birmingham on 28 March.
The group is calling for Labour’s higher education spokesman Liam Byrne, who is an MP in the city, to reverse cuts on further education if it gains office in May and commit to free education for all.